Seven games into the season, Billy Donovan is still playing the juggling game with his lineup. With true point guard Kasey Hill out for at least another 8-10 days with a high ankle sprain and DeVon Walker, a 6-6 combo guard who has filled in admirably when called to run the point day-to-day, the Gators are playing once again with a short bench. It nearly go the best of them Friday night when Florida squeezed out a 67-66 win over Florida State with Scottie Wilbekin playing 38 minutes.
Wilbekin will be required to play extended minutes again tonight when the 13th-ranked Gators (6-1) travel to UConn (7-0) to face the 14th-ranked Huskies (7 p.m., ESPN2). Donovan knows it’s not exactly fair for Wilbekin, who missed Florida’s first five regular season games while serving out a suspension. Wilbekin played 34 minutes last Monday in his first game back from suspension when the Gators knocked off Jacksonville.
“He’s certainly playing way too many minutes; the ball is in his hands way too much,” Donovan said Sunday morning before the Gators left for Connecticut. “There’s way too much on his shoulders and it’s probably a little bit unfair to him but that’s what we have right now so we’re going to have to come up with ways with six guys to rest him a little bit.”
With Jacob Kurtz factoring into the regular rotation, the Gators will be taking on UConn with six scholarship players and one walk-on (Kurtz). Because Donovan has versatile players like Michael Frazier, Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith who play multiple positions, he can get creative in his offensive and defensive schemes, but until Walker and/or Hill return, Wilbekin will have to get rest whenever he can. Against FSU, Donovan was careful to pull Wilbekin just before a couple of media time outs to buy extra time.
“We’ve got to go with what we have and if we can squeeze some minutes off to rest Scottie,” Donovan said, who pulled Wilbekin at the 12:28 mark in the first half to buy time until the under-12 minute time out then did it just before the under-16 time out in the second half.
In his two games back, Wilbekin has 15 assists, just two fewer than Hill had in the first four games before he went down against Southern University and nine more than Walker, who started Florida’s first six games before suffering a mid-foot sprain at the seven minute mark against Jacksonville.
WALKER’S STATUS UNKNOWN
Walker’s injury is not considered severe, but it kept him out of the Florida State game and could keep him out against UConn. Walker didn’t practice Saturday so his status won’t be known until the shootaround Monday.
I’m not planning on him playing right now,” Donovan said. “That’s not to say that he couldn’t. He has not practiced now in a while, so it’s always hard. Now if he is able to go, we may throw him in there for some minutes to give some guys a breather or a blow because the one area right now where we lack depth is we lack depth in the backcourt.”
UCONN’S BACKCOURT ONE OF THE BEST
Led by senior Shabazz Napier (15 points, 7.7 rebounds per game) UConn boasts one of the best backcourt units in the country. Coach Kevin Ollie prefers to go with a three-guard lineup that also features Ryan Boatright (11.7 points per game) and 6-6 Omar Calhoun (9.4 points per game). All three can shoot the ball from the outside and put the ball on the floor and get into the lane.
I think they have three guys they can put the ball in those guys’ hands and those guys are really able to make plays,” Donovan said. “They put a lot of pressure on your defense. It’s not going to be a game where we can ever have just one guy play those guys because they are going to be in a lot of pick and roll action and our big guys are going to have to do a good job of providing help. We’re going to have to do a good job of shrinking the floor and helping on rolls and obviously when shots going up doing a good job of rebounding the basketball.”
Two of UConn’s starters are familiar faces for Donovan. Calhoun and power forward DeAndre Daniels (13.4 points, 3.4 rebounds) both had Florida among their final choices before they selected UConn. Calhoun was a big time scorer at Christ the King in Middle Village, New York, the same school that sent Erving Walker to the Gators. Daniels, who is from California, was originally thought to be a one-and-done, but he’s stayed three years at UConn and Donovan says that’s to his benefit
As a college coach being through it a long period of time you realize certain guys that need more time than others and he’s a guy that I think has benefited from that and has probably put him in a position now to some day play in the NBA because he is 6-9, he does shot threes,” Donovan said. “He’s a very skilled player that can do a lot of different things and has really grown in a lot of ways as a player from where he was as a freshman.”
GAME TWO OF A FOUR-GAME GAUNTLET
This is the second game of a four-game gauntlet against strong competition and the first of three straight against ranked teams. UConn is ranked 14th, while Kansas (December 10) was #2 last week and Memphis #19. It’s a tough schedule that Donovan hopes will benefit the Gators in the long haul, particularly when they begin the Southeastern Conference portion of their schedule.
When you play big games like this, and even the Florida State game, you’re going to find out more about your team,” Donovan said. “You’re going to find out where we need to get better. There’s certain things that will get exposed this time of year that we need to correct and get better. So I think this stretch of games, they’re very challenging against very good teams. Two of the four are away from home so we’re going to get a chance to find out more about our team, which I think is always good.”
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
FLORIDA (6-1): Will Yeguete (6-8, 230, SR); Casey Prather (6-6, 212, SR); Patric Young (6-9, 240, SR); Scottie Wilbekin (6-2, 176, SR); Michael Frazier (6-4, 199, SO)
UCONN (7-0): Phillip Nolan (6-10, 212, SO); DeAndre Daniels (6-9, 195, JR); Ryan Boatright (6-0, 168, JR); Shabazz Napier (6-1 180, SR); Omar Calhoun (6-6, 200, SO)