UF MEN'S BASKETBALL
Top-ranked Gators need defense to step up against Commodores
Published: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 24, 2014 at 9:16 p.m.
Florida has climbed to No. 1 in the nation by maintaining an edge on defense that makes opposing teams work for every point they get.
Who: No. 1 Florida Gators (25-2, 14-0 SEC) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (15-11, 7-7)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Memorial Gym, Nashville, Tenn.
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
But Florida senior forward Will Yeguete has noticed defensive intensity slipping the past few weeks.
"We're not a great defensive team now,” Yeguete said. “I think our help defense is not as good. We've done a better job in the second half than the first half, especially (Saturday) on (Ole Miss guard) Marshall Henderson.
“I think we just have to make an extra effort how we talked about. I think we can do a better job doing that in the next few games."
Florida will look to regain that defense focus tonight when it concludes a stretch of four-out-of-five games on the road at Vanderbilt. The Gators allowed an average of 68.5 points in wins over Auburn and Ole Miss, well above their season average of 58.7 points allowed per game, which still leads the Southeastern Conference.
In its 75-71 win over Ole Miss, Florida allowed the most points in regulation against an SEC team this season. Florida gave up 66 points in regulation in an 84-82 overtime win at Arkansas.
Florida coach Billy Donovan spent much of Sunday's practice emphasizing defense both on the court and through film study.
“We have to do a better job of focusing on the defensive end of the floor at the beginning of the game,” Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II said. “That's happened the last two games, where we came out and weren't that focused. We came out pretty slow. We just have to do a better job of coming out and being ready to play."
After giving up 38 points in the first half, Florida allowed a season-high 42 points in the first half against Ole Miss. Part of it had to do with Henderson, who got on a shooter's roll and scored all 22 of his points in the first half. Donovan said he thought at times Henderson had too much freedom at the 3-point line.
“There were a couple when he's catching the ball with a free run and he's catching the ball on top of the three-point line,” Donovan said. “That's too easy for him.”
Florida has had issues defending the 3-point line on and off during the course of the season. Auburn and Ole Miss combined to shoot 18 of 44 (40.9) against the Gators last week. Vanderbilt ranks 12th in the SEC in 3-point shooting (.322), but like Henderson, senior forward Rod Odom (40.5 percent from 3-point range) is capable of getting on a hot streak.
"We're just going to have to stay locked in on the defense that we play every game and be focused in on that end of the floor and try to play hard and be smart on that end,” Frazier said. “Vanderbilt's a good team. They're very capable of beating us, so we have to come in with the right mentality and the right focus."
Donovan said freshman point guard Kasey Hill is progressing from a groin injury he suffered Feb. 15 at Kentucky, but will be a game-time decision tonight against Vanderbilt.
Hill has sat out UF's last two games with a groin strain.
“He is running and moving and he is getting better, but I think it's probably the trainer's decision in terms of we've come this far, what's the risk and reward of him playing and what is the potential for him injuring it again,” Donovan said. “I mean, they can always get hurt, but I don't want to put him in a bad situation. So I would say right now, he's probably not going to play.”
If Hill doesn't play, Donovan said he still has confidence in sophomore guard DeVon Walker, sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith and Frazier running the point when senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin takes a breather.
“Anytime you've got a good player out, it's never good for your team but we've got to try to make do with what we've got missing,” Donovan said.
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 12.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 13.8 ppg, 3.8 apg
F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr 15.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 5.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg
VANDERBILT PROBABLE STARTERS
G Dai-Jon Parker 6-3 Jr. 7.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg
G Kyle Fuller 6-1 Sr. 11.6 ppg, 4.5 apg
F James Siakam 6-7 RJr. 7.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg
F Rod Odom 6-9 Sr. 14.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg
C Damian Jones 6-10 Fr. 11.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg
Notes: Florida is 61-64 all-time against Vanderbilt and 23-12 against the Commodores under Billy Donovan . … Florida's 25-2 start is its best in school history through 27 games, surpassing UF's 24-2 start in 2006-07 . … Florida also takes a school-record seven-game SEC road win streak into its matchup with the Commodores. … Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin is averaging 18.7 points per game over his last six games. Wilbekin is shooting .415 from the floor and .405 from 3-point range during that span. … The Gators are 77 of 97 from the free-throw line (79.4 percent) over their last four games. … Vanderbilt freshman center Damian Jones was named SEC freshman of the week after averaging 16.5 points and 5.5 rebounds against Missouri and Auburn. … The Commodores have won three of their last four at home.
Three things to watch
1. Containing Odom
Florida enjoyed the benefit of having a stretch power forward in its offense last season in senior Erik Murphy. This season, Vanderbilt has enjoyed that same luxury in senior forward Rod Odom, who ranks fourth in the SEC in 3-point shooting at 40.5 percent. At 6-9, Odom has the size to shoot over most defenders. “He's the most versatile player in our league,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. The Gators need to keep Odom from having a big night, because if he stretches the floor, it opens up the rest of Vanderbilt's offense.
2. Vanderbilt's depth
Due to various injuries and discipline issues, Vanderbilt has played most of the season with just seven scholarship players. It's been a good coaching job by 15th-year Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings to keep the Commodores 7-7 in the SEC. Florida will likely be down point guard Kasey Hill, but still has enough quality depth to wear Vandy down. Sophomore swingman DeVon Walker has come on of late for the Gators, averaging 6.5 points off the bench in his last two games. Walker has made 4 of his last 9 3-point attempts.
3. Memorial Magic
Memorial Gym always is a quirky place to play, with its raised stage and benches underneath the backboards. The shooting background is tricky because it had more the look of a music auditorium than a traditional basketball arena. The Gators haven't played there since 2012 due to the new 14-team, unbalanced schedule, which means younger players like sophomore guard Michael Frazier II have never played in the building. "I've seen it on TV, heard about it,” Frazier said. “The goal's still 10 feet, the 3-point line is still the same difference, so I don't think it will be that much different.” Vanderbilt is imploring its fans to fill the building to root against the No. 1 Gators, so expect the atmosphere to be high-charged in the early going. Vanderbilt is 10-4 at home this season.