Florida Gators running away in SEC

Florida Gators running away in SEC

January 22nd, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Florida's Erik Murphy (33) blocks Missouri guard Jabari Brown (32) as teammate Florida Gators guard Scottie Wilbekin (5) watches during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Gainesville, Fla.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Defeating Florida has been futile for Southeastern Conference teams so far in men's basketball.

Coming within 20 points might be a more reasonable goal.

Billy Donovan's veteran Gators have shot out of the league gate by routing Georgia 77-44, LSU 74-52, Texas A&M 68-47 and Missouri 83-52. They led each of their last two games by 17 points at halftime.

"Any time you go into a league game, you're always prepared for it to go all the way down to the end, because that's generally what happens," Donovan said Monday. "There have been some games where we've gone into the locker room up double digits or up eight or nine, and we've been able to play well in the second half.

"Am I surprised by it? Before the game starts, you probably are, because you're preparing for a 40-minute, all-the-way-through battle to come down to the last couple of possessions, but we've been able to build some leads to where that hasn't happened."

The Gators are 14-2 overall, and all the victories have been by 13 or more points. Georgia gets a second crack Wednesday night when the eighth-ranked Gators visit Stegeman Coliseum.

"They're arguably one of the top two or three teams in the country right now," Bulldogs coach Mark Fox said. "They have an outstanding defensive team that is really committed to defending, and they have a very balanced and very potent offensive group as well. When you combine those two things, they have a team that arguably will compete for the national championship."

Florida, which ranks second nationally in margin of victory (22.1 points per game) and third in scoring defense (51.7), has four players averaging double digits in scoring. Guard Kenny Boynton (13.3 ppg), guard Mike Rosario (12.5) and center/forward Erik Murphy (12.5) are seniors, while center Patric Young (11.4) is a junior.

Guard Scottie Wilbekin (8.3), who is fifth on the team in scoring, also is a junior.

Donovan cites the improved defense to commitment and experience. He added that diminutive guard Erving Walker was a talented shooter last season but was hard to hide defensively and that Bradley Beal, for all his talents, discovered that defending at the major college level was different from high school.

Opponents are averaging just 36.1-percent shooting against the Gators, which has Florida foes having to guard against frustration as well.

"We didn't give ourselves a chance to have a good night offensively," Missouri's Frank Haith said. "We didn't screen. We didn't cut hard. We didn't do the little things, and to play a team that's sound like that defensively, your execution has to be top-notch."

Said Texas A&M's Billy Kennedy: "You end up taking quick shots and not good shots, and that leads to transition baskets for them."

Florida has lost heartbreaking Elite Eight games the past two seasons to Butler and Louisville. The Gators would appear to be the only SEC team right now capable of a deep NCAA tournament run, but Donovan is adamant about tackling the daily grind and not looking behind or ahead.

"Whatever happened yesterday or last week has no bearing on today," he said. "It's a constant investment, and it's making deposits every day. It's human nature to want to get complacent and to not want to continue to strive to be better than where you are. Our guys have got to be able to handle that aspect of this journey in our league right now.

"We're 4-0, but we've got to get better."

Odds and ends

ESPN's Joe Lunardi projects just four of the SEC's 14 members in the 68-team NCAA tournament field, with Florida as a 3 seed, Missouri a 4 seed, Ole Miss a 9 seed and Kentucky a 10 seed. ... Ole Miss junior guard Marshall Henderson was named SEC player of the week after averaging 21 points, 4.5 rebounds and three steals in wins last week over Vanderbilt and Arkansas. ... Donovan on Fox, who is 57-56 in his fourth season and 20-32 in SEC games: "They've got incredible leadership and direction with Mark there. He has been successful his whole life, and there are always going to be peaks and valleys and ups and downs."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.