UF MEN'S BASKETBALL

Gators face unique challenge in UCLA's Anderson


Published: Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 8:33 p.m.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As a kid growing up on the hardscrabble streets of Jersey City, N.J., UCLA sophomore Kyle Anderson always knew he wanted to play point guard.

Facts

Today's game

Who: Florida Gators (34-2) vs. UCLA Bruins (28-8)
When: 9:45 p.m.
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tenn.
TV: CBS
Gainesville-area radio: 103.7 FM

So even as Anderson sprouted from 6-foot-3 as a seventh-grader to 6-9 as a senior in high school, Hall of Famer and St. Anthony's High School coach Bob Hurley kept him running the offense.

Anderson will present a challenge tonight when top-seeded Florida meets fourth-seeded UCLA in the Sweet 16 at the FedEx Forum. Florida has one of the best point guards in the country in senior Scottie Wilbekin. But Anderson is one of the most unique. Not many point guards led their team in rebounding (8.7 points). That has allowed Anderson to start the fast break and generate points in transition for the Bruins.

“He doesn't get rattled,” Florida assistant coach Matt McCall said. “You can't speed him up and with all that being said, he's got tremendous size so when you run and try to trap him or get him sped up, he can just see over you and find guys because he's so big.

“Very, very unique player, unlike any guy we've faced all year and just a tremendous talent that's got a really high basketball IQ.”

UCLA first-year coach Steve Alford said Anderson has been instrumental in sparking an offense that averages 81.5 points per game.

“His ability to pass the ball has become contagious,” Alford said. “We're basically playing an eight-man rotation and six of the eight guys have a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. We have one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios all season long in the country. It started with Kyle, but it just kind of went through our team.”

Anderson is averaging 6.6 assists per game.

“My teammates do a very good job of running the floor and cutting hard,” Anderson said. “I try to reward them as much as I can with being unselfish.”

To simulate Anderson in practice, Florida coach Billy Donovan had 6-foot-8 Duke transfer Alex Murphy run the point on Monday and Tuesday. Murphy, who isn't eligible to play for the Gators this season due to NCAA transfer rules, didn't make the trip with the Gators.

“He did pretty good, having a big guy run that point in practice, just getting a feel for it,” Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II said. “I think we're going to be prepared tomorrow. I think we're just going to have to play our style of defense, know what we're doing on the defensive end of the floor, and be focused.”

Anderson came close to wearing blue and orange in his college career instead of true blue and gold. Florida and UCLA both strongly recruited Anderson, who made his decision in October of 2011.

“I wouldn't have had a problem going to either school,” Anderson said. “I just happened to like UCLA more. I think the player development I saw when being recruited by Coach Donovan, I think that played a big role in how much I liked Florida at the time. But I decided to come to UCLA and I was happy with the decision.”

Florida moved on with the 6-foot-2 Wilbekin, who developed into an All-American (he was named a third-team All-American by the National Association of Basketball Coaches on Wednesday). Wilbekin willed the Gators to a 61-45 win over Pittsburgh in a Round of 32 matchup by scoring four straight baskets down the stretch, all off dribble penetration. He finished with 21 points, two rebounds and two steals.

Through his four-year career, Wilbekin said he's been challenged by Donovan to grow in a number of areas.

“It's definitely gotten easier as I've gotten older,” Wilbekin said. “But he always is challenging me, whether it's to make better plays or be a better leader always just staying on me and making sure he can get the most out of me."

Donovan said that Wilbekin's offensive development was stunted in his first two seasons because the ball was in the hands of former guards Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Bradley Beal more often. But Wilbekin gained full-time experience at the point last season and has complemented his stellar defense this season with more playmaking ability.

“He's gotten better over the course of the last two years of doing everything, understanding how to play in pick‑and‑roll, making decisions, getting guys shots, having an awareness of where players are on the court,” Donovan said. “His defense has always been the same. He's always been accountable there. He does a great job, but he's really evolved, I think, as a complete guard.”

Given the size mismatch, Wilbekin said he doesn't even know if he will guard Anderson. That responsibility could fall on a committee of Gator players that includes 6-6 forward Casey Prather, 6-7 forward Will Yeguete and 6-8 forward Dorian Finney-Smith. Florida will likely slide Wilbekin down to guard UCLA 6-4 guard Jordan Adams, who presents another tough offensive skillset. McCall said that Adams (17.4 ppg) will be as difficult a shooting guard matchup as the Gators have faced this season, including Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson and Missouri guard Jabari Brown.

“He's doing it ways that we have not seen before,” McCall said. “He posts up a lot and when you take that away, he'll wrap off and come off a stagger screen. If you take that away, he'll catch and come off a pick and roll. He just scores in so many different ways. He causes a lot of problems out there.”

But Florida has built its current 28-game win streak around its defense. In the 28 wins, Florida has held eight opponents under 50 points and 17 opponents under 60 points.

“It's going to be a really big challenge for us,” Yeguete said. “We're going to have to guard them for the whole possession.”

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 12.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg

G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 13.1 ppg, 3.7 apg

F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr. 14.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg

F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 4.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg

C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg

UCLA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Jordan Adams 6-4 So. 17.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg

G Kyle Anderson 6-9 So. 14.7 ppg, 6.6 apg

G Norman Powell 6-4 Jr. 11.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg

F David Wear 6-10 Sr. 6.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg

F Travis Wear 6-9 Sr. 7.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg

Notes: Florida is making its 17th NCAA tournament appearance in school history and 14th under Billy Donovan (NCAA tournament appearances in 1987 and 1988 were vacated due to sanctions). The Gators are 37-14 all-time in the NCAA tournament and 33-11 under Donovan. … Florida is 3-0 against UCLA, with all three wins coming in the NCAA tournament (2006, 2007 and 2011). … Florida has held five of its last 10 opponents in NCAA tournament games to less than 50 points, and seven to less than 60 points. ... With 110 3-pointers, sophomore guard Michael Frazier II is three 3-pointers shy of tying Lee Humphrey's mark for most 3-pointers in a season (113). … UCLA is making its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2008. … It's just the second Sweet 16 appearance for first-year UCLA coach Steve Alford, who led Southwest Missouri (now Missouri State) to the Sweet 16 in 1999. … Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin and Florida senior center Patric Young will be appearing in their 15th NCAA tournament games. The Gators are 11-3 in the previous 14 NCAA tournament games that Wilbekin and Young have appeared in.

Three things to watch

1. Breaking UCLA's zone

UCLA has played zone on 37.5 percent of defensive possessions this season. Look for the Bruins to throw a mix of defenses at the Gators tonight, including some 2-3 zone. Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II could get some open looks at the basket and will have a chance to shoot over the zone. Frazier was just 3-of-13 from 3-point range in UF's two previous NCAA tournament games in Orlando, but is still shooting an SEC-best 44.4 percent from beyond the arc this season. UCLA is allowing opposing teams to shoot 34.3 percent from 3-point range this season.

2. Taking care of the ball

While UCLA has had its issues defensively this season, the Bruins are a team capable of generating points in transition. UCLA is averaging 9.3 steals per game, best in the Pac-12. Point guards Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill have been strong with the ball all season and will need to be again Thursday night.

3. Free-throw shooting

Perhaps UCLA's biggest advantage in its matchup with Florida is its ability to convert at the line. UCLA is shooting 74.9 percent from the free-throw line, compared to 66.3 percent for the Gators. UCLA is getting to the foul line an average of 20.7 times per game, so it will be important for the Gators to guard dribble penetration without fouling. On the other end, Florida will need to stay consistent at the foul line. Compared to the SEC tournament (50 percent), the Gators were much improved at the charity stripe in their first two NCAA tournament games, shooting a combined 20-of-27 (74.4 percent) against Pittsburgh and Albany

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