Florida's defense crippling SEC foes

Florida's defense crippling SEC foes

February 4th, 2014 by David Paschall in Sportscollege

Florida center Patric Young (4) is congratualted by his teammates after passing the 1,000th career point mark during the second half of an NCAA college basketball in Gainesville.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Eight Southeastern Conference basketball teams have attempted to defeat Florida this season, and eight have failed.

The bigger challenge lately has been trying to score 50 points. The Gators, who have four senior starters, improved to 8-0 in league play this past Saturday with a 69-36 trouncing of Texas A&M.

"It's probably been a process over a period of time," Florida coach Billy Donovan said Monday when asked about his defense. "Most freshmen who come into college don't understand how good players are at this level and how a breakdown can lead to something that's very difficult to defend. Our younger guys have been able to learn from our older guys as it relates to that, and I think our older guys have an understanding of the importance of it.

"We have our good days and bad days in practice like anybody else, but for the most part they've invested in trying to improve and get better on both ends of the floor."

Florida's last six foes have averaged just 50.1 points. The Gators lead the conference in scoring defense (57.4 points per game) and field-goal defense (38.4 percent), and they have a plus-6.1 in rebounding margin per game.

One of the hotter SEC teams the past two weeks is Tennessee, which has averaged 81 points in wins over Arkansas, Ole Miss and Alabama. When Cuonzo Martin's Volunteers traveled to Gainesville on Jan. 25, however, they were shellacked 67-41.

Martin's Vols swept Florida two seasons ago, averaging 71 points in those wins.

"I think these guys have more of a defensive mindset," Martin said. "When I first got here, they had guys who were built to score and could make plays, and they were a good defensive team. The first time we played them here, when [point guard Scottie] Wilbekin was a sophomore, we had to take a guy out of the game because of his ball pressure, and now that DNA has rubbed off on all those other guys.

"With most teams you've got to have talent, but it starts with Wilbekin and [center] Patric Young. Those are two veteran guys at their positions, and those are very important positions. They still have guys who can score, but I just think their guys now are built to defend and have a passion to defend."

Still winless

Alabama is 0-8 in road games this season entering Wednesday's trip to Arkansas. The Crimson Tide have dropped all three SEC road games, losing by eight at Georgia, by 21 at Missouri and by 19 last Thursday at Auburn.

"We've played some pretty good competition on the road in some hostile environments in terms of where we played and the magnitude of the games," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "For the most part, it's getting over the hump, because we've had our opportunities outside of a couple of games. The thing that we've got to be able to do is maintain that fight for 40 minutes to be able to pull out some of these wins on the road."

Tigers sweeping

LSU forwards swept league honors Monday with Johnny O'Bryant III being tabbed player of the week and Jordan Mickey freshman of the week. O'Bryant racked up 52 points on 23-of-36 shooting and had 18 rebounds in wins last week over Kentucky and Arkansas, and Mickey had 36 points, 16 rebounds and 11 blocks in the two triumphs.

"It's rare sometimes when you have two post guys who are capable of being able to shoot the ball from the perimeter as well as both playing with their backs to the basket," LSU coach Johnny Jones said. "They are good passers and good decision-makers when they are out there on the floor, and they've just done a great job of feeding off each other."

Odds and ends

The SEC currently has five teams in the CBS projection of the NCAA men's tournament: Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU and Missouri. ... Donovan on Missouri junior guard Jabari Brown, who had made 57 percent of his 3-point attempts against SEC opposition: "That's hard to do with nobody guarding you."

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