UF MEN'S BASKETBALL

Florida bench playing key role in winning streak


Florida guard DeVon Walker claps after coming off the bench against Middle Tennessee State on Nov. 21.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer/File
Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 9:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 9:33 p.m.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Florida coach Billy Donovan talked about the importance of using his bench more following last week's three-game homestand.

On Tuesday night, UF's bench stepped up during its 67-58 win at Tennessee. Florida outscored the Volunteers' bench 14-6, with some surprise contributors.

Sophomore forward DeVon Walker chipped in with six points and a steal, going 2-for-2 from 3-point range. It was just the second time this season, and first time in SEC play, that Walker made two 3-pointers in a game. Walker entered the Tennessee game shooting just 22.9 percent from beyond the arc, with his last 3-pointer coming Jan. 23 at Alabama.

“DeVon gave us good minutes,” Donovan said. “He knocked down two 3s which was good to see, considering he has not shot the ball particularly well, and it's hard to shoot the ball well when you have sporadic minutes like he does. But he gave us a great boost.”

Freshman point guard Kasey Hill added four points and two steals in 20 minutes off the bench, and sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith had four points, five rebounds and three assists in 27 minutes. Freshman forward Chris Walker, in his third game, had no points and three rebounds in five minutes.

“Those guys were huge, especially DeVon,” Florida senior center Patric Young said. “I know he's been struggling a little bit with his confidence. For him to come in there and knock down some big 3s was big for us.”

The bench production allowed Florida to keep players fresh and weather some foul trouble. A big reason why Young was able to out-hustle Jarnell Stokes for loose balls and rebounds late was that Young was approaching just 23 minutes on the floor in the closing minutes. Stokes finished the game playing 35 minutes.

Donovan said he wants to continue to find ways of getting more minutes for Chris Walker, who showed some freshman jitters in his first road game. The former McDonald's All-American from Bonifay had two turnovers in his brief stint on the floor, including a travel after a defensive rebound.

“We got some decent minutes from Chris Walker,” Donovan said. “I thought he would play maybe a little bit more, but we were able to weather some foul trouble. I thought this was a game potentially where both frontcourts could be in foul trouble because both frontcourts are physical. I think both teams worked through that, so he didn't play a lot in the second half.”

With a rotation of scholarship players that's now nine deep, Donovan can afford to mix and match more during the course of the game. Young said he wasn't surprised by the performance of UF's bench against Tennessee.

“I'm really happy they were able to contribute,” Young said.

Young a CLASS finalist

On the day after Young's big hustle play against Tennessee made the rounds on YouTube, he was named as one of 10 finalists for college basketball's senior CLASS award.

An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the Senior CLASS Award is given to the senior who represents college basketball in a positive light both on and off court through scholastic excellence and community involvement. Young is a two-time SEC scholar athlete of the year who volunteers at Gainesville area elementary schools and visits sick children in hospitals.

Young joins a list of finalists that includes Creighton forward Doug McDermott, Ohio State guard Aaron Craft, Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier, Louisville guard Russ Smith, Syracuse forward C.J. Fair, Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim, South Dakota State forward Jordan Dykstra, Penn State guard Tim Frazier and Saint Louis forward Dwayne Evans.

Fans can vote for the finalists at www.seniorclassaward.com through March 24. The winner will be selected through a combination of votes from fans, Division-I coaches and media.

Big night for former Gators

While Tuesday night's win over Tennessee gave the Gators cause to celebrate, it also was a big night for some with ties to the UF basketball program as well.

— Former Gator guard Bradley Beal scored a career-high 37 points in the Washington Wizards' 92-89 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Former Gator point guard Nick Calathes finished with 18 points, seven assists and six rebounds for Memphis.

— Former Gator center Joakim Noah posted his fourth career-triple double (19 points, 16 rebounds, 11 assists), lifting the Chicago Bulls to a 100-85 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

— Former Gator assistant coach Larry Shyatt, now head coach at Wyoming, guided the Cowboys to a 68-62 upset win over No. 5 San Diego State. Wyoming snapped San Diego State's 20-game winning streak.

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

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