Florida ends Arkansas' home streak in overtime

Florida guard DeVon Walker drives to the basket while being guarded by Arkansas forward Jacorey Williams, left, and forward Coty Clarke during Saturday's game in Fayetteville, Ark. Florida won 84-82 in overtime. (AP Photo/David Quinn)

Published: Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 3:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 8:51 p.m.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Throughout this season, Florida coach Billy Donovan has tried different ways to prod the versatile talents out of sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith.

On an afternoon when No. 10 Florida needed him most, Finney-Smith delivered.

There were plenty of heroes in UF's dramatic 84-82 overtime win Saturday at Arkansas. Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, out two practices with a mild ankle sprain, came up with a game-tying, bank-shot with two seconds left to send the game to overtime. Patric Young came off the bench to finish with 10 points and seven rebounds on balky knees before fouling out in overtime. Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II hit a 3-pointer with under two minutes left in regulation to tie the score at 64.

But it was Finney-Smith who finally displayed the talents that those who watched him in practice last season beamed about. Stepping in for UF's leading scorer, senior forward Casey Prather, who was out with a knee injury, the Virginia Tech transfer finished with a career-high 22 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and three steals.

“I just tried to stay aggressive, keep attacking,” Finney-Smith said. “I knew Casey wasn't playing. As a team we wanted to get this win for him.”

Finney-Smith scored five of the 22 points in overtime, including an open 3-pointer that extended UF's lead to 75-69 with 1:49 left in the extra session.

“It felt good,” Finney-Smith said. “Coach D told me, if I get a shot, my team told me, if I get a shot, just shoot it with confidence.”

After sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules, Finney-Smith has tried to find his way as a sixth man off the bench. Donovan said following UF's win over South Carolina he felt like Finney-Smith could do more after an eight-point, four-rebound, four-turnover effort.

Finney-Smith went 3 of 7 from 3-point range. Of his 15 rebounds, nine were offensive rebounds.

“The one guy who I've tried to instill just a level of confidence in is (Finney-Smith),” Donovan said. “Just be aggressive, play through mistakes. He takes things so personal when he doesn't do what he feels he should be doing out there and he gets down sometimes and sometimes it drains his energy. Maybe I have to do a better job of trying to get him to move past the next thing.”

Florida (13-2, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) extended its win streak to seven games and snapped Arkansas' 23-game win streak at Bud Walton Arena. Florida also avenged an 80-69 loss at Arkansas last season that snapped a 10-game winning streak.

“We didn't want anything less,” Wilbekin said. “That's all we were thinking about, especially, unfortunately, after our last game here last year. We wanted to go out with a win as seniors.”

But it didn't come easy. Chances for a win appeared dire when Arkansas forward Coty Clarke hit a free throw to put Arkansas (11-4, 0-2) up 64-57 with 4:43 left. After a Young dunk cut Arkansas' lead to 64-59, the Razorbacks could have extended their lead to seven again, but Clarke missed a wide-open dunk.

That was the opening the Gators needed to rally. Freshman point guard Kasey Hill hit a driving layup to cut Arkansas' lead to 64-61, then, off an Arkansas turnover, Frazier hit a 3-pointer from the corner to tie the score at 64 with 1:52 left.

Junior Rashad Madden then hit a jumper with 1:34 left to put Arkansas up 66-64. On Florida's next two possessions, Frazier missed a 3-pointer and Hill traveled with 17.7 seconds left.

At that point, Arkansas could have finished off the game with free throws. But forward Alandise Harris missed the front end of a one-and-one, another break the Gators capitalized on. Holding for the last shot, Donovan didn't call a timeout but called a pick-and-roll play from the bench involving Wilbekin and Finney-Smith. Madden defended Wilbekin on the play.

“It was just a read play,” Wilbekin said. “My man stepped down on me. I thought about shooting the 3(-pointer). I made the right decision and went to the lane and tried to get the easy two.”

Wilbekin used the window for an eight-foot bank shot that tied the score at 66 with two seconds remaining.

“We executed the play fairly well in terms of what we got,” Donovan said. “We got an eight-foot, pull-up bank shot.”

Florida carried the momentum into overtime. Young forced a travel, then hit a 14-footer to put Florida ahead 68-66. Wilbekin then got a steal, and on the offensive end, drained an open 3-pointer to extend UF's lead to 71-66.

“We tried to dig in and play the best defense we've played the whole game,” Wilbekin said. “We looked at it like a whole new game, 0-0 with five minutes, Pat did a great job hitting that mid-range jumper and then I came down and hit the three.”

Florida led by as many as eight points in overtime before a late Arkansas charge. With 21 seconds left, Wilbekin missed a pair of free throws and Arkansas had a chance to tie the game down 82-79. But Florida guarded the 3-point line and Harris inexplicably tried a drive to the basket that missed with seven seconds left.

“Coach D told us to play on the three, make them drive and he drove,” Finney-Smith said. “I was happy with it.”

It wasn't a perfect Florida effort by any stretch. Arkansas scored 23 points off 20 offensive rebounds. Donovan said the Gators were “annihilated” on the offensive glass.

But Florida pulled out another close game, improving to 3-1 this season in games decided by five points. Wilbekin had 18 points and two assists, while Frazier had 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.

“It feels really good going forward, especially having a 2-0 start in our league is huge,” Young said. “Because our league is really tough. Anybody can get beat on any night, especially on the road.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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