UK Basketball: Florida guard Wilbekin key to Gators' pressure defense
Florida¿s Scottie Wilbekin, center, could be the Gators¿ most important player because of his defense and ability to disrupt offenses. (AP Photo / February 19, 2013)
“He is the best in the league. I told (Florida coach) Billy (Donovan) when he was a freshman I¿thought he was a terrific player,” said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. “He just is tenacious. He is tough. It’s every game, every possession. He does a great job on the ball. It looks to me like he just sells out to do what his team needs him to do and he is great at it.”
Donovan says the Gators had a small point guard, Earvin Walker, the past three years who was a terrific outside shooter but didn’t have the size to rebound or defend like Wilbekin, who had eight points and four assists in Wednesday’s 66-40 win over Vanderbilt that clinched the SEC title for the Gators.
“We had to deal with teams shooting over him. He was never going to be a great rebounder. Players could pick up the ball and throw over top of him,” Donovan said about Walker. “Scottie, you could tell he was trying to be more of a scorer when the season started. With us losing (Brad) Beal and Walker, he thought he had to do that. But his identity is defending.
“He understands the value of defense and takes pride in it. He can guard a lot of people. He is disciplined, physical. He is a tough kid. Any time the defense starts on top with a guy like that, it helps and he is one of the better defenders in the league.”
Kentucky hosts Florida (24-5, 14-3 SEC) Saturday at noon knowing it desperately needs a win to maintain hope of getting into the NCAA Tournament if it does not win the SEC Tournament after losing at Georgia Thursday. But beating Florida could be a difficult task for this team that is only 3-3 since Nerlens Noel went down with a season-ending knee injury in a loss at Florida last month.
“Florida has all the parts to be a Final Four team,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “They score from the perimeter. They dribble penetrate. They throw the ball inside. They have so many moving parts and five guys you have to identify to stop. On defense, they do a good job helping and keeping the ball in front of them. They trap the post well. But it all starts with the guy (Wilbekin) guarding the ball out front. I think Wilbekin is one of the best in the league, it not the best.”
His play has helped senior forward Erik Murphy flourish this season.
“I think Erik has played well. The biggest thing that has been helpful to the team is that last year he was not a guy that did a lot around the basket,” Donovan said. “This year he has done a better job posting up and finding areas to score. He’s a more complete player. He’s become an inside-out player where last year he was more outside.”
Murphy considered leaving Florida after playing sparingly his first two seasons and then was suspended much of the offseason before his junior year following his arrest for allegedly breaking into a car outside a bar. This year he has become one of the best power forwards in the country and leads the SEC in 3-point shooting, averaging 46.4 percent. He’s averaging a career-best 12.4 points and 5.0 rebounds and already has topped last year’s totals for assists and steals.
“Erik is very smart. He understands he is not the fleetest of foot defensively and that he has got to be in the right position and see things happen before they do,” Donovan said. “The way we play defensively is not one guy against the ball but give guys.
“We understand when Erik is closing out and guarding a quicker guy on the perimeter he will need help. I think our guys have done a good job loading up defensively to help him.”
Senior guard Kenny Boynton has also become a more complete player and is averaging 3.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game — both career highs — along with a career-low 12.6 points. He also has just 37 turnovers this season.