Most knew Florida would be forced to adjust its personnel rotation following the loss of Will Yeguete, but few expected a starting point guard change.
Scottie Wilbekin watched the opening minutes of Florida’s 83-58 win over Mississippi State, but the move was hardly a strategic one.
“I’ve got such high regard for Scottie as a point guard and a player, and I am not going to let him play to a lower standard than he is capable of,” Donovan told the Gator IMG Sports Network following the game.
The Gators practiced hard following a blowout loss to Arkansas, but Wilbekin seemingly did not practice hard enough.
“Our team needs Scottie Wilbekin to be an emotional, fired-up leader,” Donovan said. “When he does that and plays that way, it energizes our team. And we had a couple days of practice where he wasn’t like that.”
He was like that Saturday evening.
Despite entering the game nearly five minutes “late,” Wilbekin ended the contest with a team-high 33 minutes and seven assists. The latter statistic contributed to an impressive team total.
“We moved and shared the ball pretty well. Again, we had another game where we had 21 assists,” Donovan said.
Florida also shot the ball “pretty well,” going 53 percent from the field. It was a figure aided by the sharp shooting of Mike Rosario and Erik Murphy. Both made 7 of 10 field goals, scoring 18 and 17 points, respectively.
“Murphy got some really, really good looks. He shot the ball very, very well,” Donovan said. “I thought Mike Rosario played within himself. He took good open shots. He made good decisions.”
Early on, however, it was the freshman fill-in who ignited the Gators.
“Mike Frazier (II) starts the game and knocks down some threes and gives us some good momentum there in the first half,” Donovan said. “That was encouraging to see.”
Also encouraging was another balanced scoring performance. Five different Gators players recorded double-figure point totals.
“With the way we are playing, on any given night anybody can score. It’s just a matter of where the ball goes and who it finds. And when you play unselfishly, you know, it’s going to find different people at different times,” Donovan said.
Though Donovan expressed frustration over missed scoring opportunities and allowing “too many points,” the Gators’ coach was pleased with the result.
“Coming off of a hard fought game on Tuesday, some injuries, guys battling different things – I mean, to win by 25 points I think is a great win for us,” Donovan said.
The victory moved Florida to 9-1 in the conference, and provided a two-game lead over Kentucky. It is a feat Donovan expressed pride in while also bracing for a tough final stretch.
“I was really, really happy for our guys — and to be obviously 9 and 1 in the league,” Donovan said. “We have eight games left — four at home and four on the road — and I think every one of them will be very, very challenging.”
Tuesday night certainly may be a “double-very” challenge, as Florida hosts Kentucky.