Notebook: Wilbekin's clutch shot seals win
Published: Saturday, January 18, 2014 at 9:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 18, 2014 at 9:55 p.m.
AUBURN, Ala. — Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin hasn't shied away from taking, and making, big shots this season.
For the second straight Saturday, Wilbekin hit a big shot down the stretch in a Southeastern Conference road game. Last week, it was an 8-foot bank shot at the buzzer that forced overtime in UF's eventual 84-82 win against Arkansas.
This Saturday, Wilbekin hit a fall-away 12-footer with 1:23 remaining that kept No. 7 Florida ahead to stay in an eventual 68-61 win against Auburn.
“I have confidence I can make plays,” Wilbekin said. “Luckily, they've been going down for me. I just want to keep trying to play the right way, regardless of how much time is left in the game.”
With Florida up just 62-61 after Auburn freshman Tahj Shamsid-Deen's jumper with 1:59 remaining, the Gators came out of a timeout needing a bucket. The ball was in Wilbekin's hands throughout the possession. At first, Wilbekin took a drive to the basket and pulled back. On his second drive to the hoop, Wilbekin said he was looking for senior forward Casey Prather.
“I wanted to get it to Casey coming around behind me, but his man denied him,” Wilbekin said. “So I had to make another move and go for it, and I made it.”
The fall-away jumper put Florida up 64-61. From there, Wilbekin made 2 of 4 free throws and freshman point guard Kasey Hill hit a pair of free throws to close out the game.
Florida coach Billy Donovan said he felt like Wilbekin had a chance to get down the lane earlier in the possession, but was pleased with the Gainesville native's decision-making with time winding down on the shot clock.
“I was happy he was able to put some pressure on the basket,” Donovan said. “What ends up happening is you ultimately force help when that happens at the basket. Then as long as the shot isn't blocked, you give yourself a chance for the offensive rebound, but he made a tough shot in the lane.”
Gators get swipes
Florida finished with 11 steals against Auburn, matching a season-high. The Gators previously had 11 steals Nov. 16 in an 86-56 win over Arkansas Little-Rock.
Florida also had 10 steals this season in wins over Kansas (67-61) and South Carolina (74-58).
Senior forward Will Yeguete had a team-high five steals in another strong all-around floor game (four points, six rebounds and two assists). Freshman point guard Kasey Hill added three steals and has five steals over his last two games.
Another close win
Florida improved to 7-2 this season in games decided by single digits. The Gators are 3-1 in games decided by five points or less.
“We're going to try to continue to get better and improve, not just at the end of games, but throughout the game,” Donovan said. “The end of the game, whether it's a defensive stop, whether it's at the free-throw line or it's offensive execution, is no different than in the middle of the game, the beginning of the game. It's all the same thing. You just have to be able to make those good execution plays that you need during the course of the game.”
Freshman forward Chris Walker sat out his eighth straight game since joining the Gators at practice Dec. 16. Walker still has yet to be fully cleared by the NCAA for competition due to an undisclosed issue. … With Prather coming off the bench due to his knee issues, UF's bench outscored Auburn's bench 28-5. … Florida (15-2, 4-0 SEC) is the only team left unbeaten in conference play after Texas A&M (12-5, 3-1 SEC) lost to Mississippi State 81-72 in overtime.