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February 4, 2014

Notebook: Gators battle through struggles in Walker debut



Florida entered Tuesday night's game against Missouri having won its last three games by a combined 70 points. While the Gators did leave with their fifth consecutive double-digit win, they didn't do it without roughly 36 minutes of drama.

Seven times the lead changed between the two teams throughout the game. The game found itself at a tie 12 times. Missouri, patient with the ball, took its time to build possessions into climatic shots near the end of the shot clock that seemed to sink more often than not at times.

"This was really a hard game for us because it was a struggle all the way through," Billy Donovan said. "Nothing was easy for us."

The Gators trailed by three at the halftime after shooting 1 of 11 from beyond the arc and too often shying away from moving the ball inside and taking advantage of center Patric Young against Missouri's less-heralded frontcourt.

Donovan walked into the locker room and addressed his players with gusto.

"He was a little livid," Young said. "He just told us we need to run our offense, get the ball going inside-out. We just needed to pick it up as a whole and bring it up to another level."

Days and especially weeks from now, Missouri at home will just look like another win in a long string - 28 games - of them in the O'Connell Center. But the Tigers gave the Gators the kind of gut-check they don't see too often at home in a 68-58 defeat.

"That's why I thought in a lot of ways this game was good for us," Donovan said. "Because it wasn't easy. Because we had to battle through some things."

-- SEVEN MINUTES --

Take a note next time there is more hype and excitement around a player who sees seven minutes of action in a basketball game. It won't happen too often.

Former five-star prospect and freshman forward Chris Walker made his collegiate debut Tuesday night after a 12-game suspension for violating NCAA rules during his high school career that followed him not arriving at Florida until Dec. 14 for academic clearance reasons.

He subbed in for the first time with 11:28 remaining in the first half. Walker played seven minutes in which he scored four points - both buckets on alley-oop lobs from former AAU teammate Kasey Hill - to go with two blocks, two rebounds and two fouls.

Any hint of Walker entering the game drew standing ovations from the crowd, and his two dunks were answered by a roar of approval from those in attendance.

Some comments on Walker's night:

Walker on the impermissible benefits that led to his suspension: "I was like 16 and 17. I really had no idea that I was doing anything (wrong)."

Walker on the wait: "I'm happy to have it behind me. My coaches and teammates kept me motivated and told me to just let it come. That's what I did."

Donovan: "I never wanted him to feel like he walked off the floor and felt like, 'I was a big disappointment tonight.' I'm happy walked out of here in seven minutes and he feels good about himself. I think that's a real balance that you have to have. If I'm in there saying, 'This guy is great. He's a shot-blocker. He's running.' I'm in there building him up, and now people start saying, 'Maybe he's a little overrated. He's not ready.'"

-- FREE-THROW SHOOTING --

The Gators went 24 for 33 (72.7 percent) from the free-throw line against the Tigers, a big reason why they were able to maintain a substantial lead late in the game. The biggest push came from Scottie Wilbekin, who went 13 of 16 and was Florida's go-to shooter down the stretch.

"It was huge," Young said. "He actually hit 86 free throws in a row two days ago, so I just went up to him and said, '86,' and he said, 'Yeah, you're right.'"

Florida came in shooting 65.6 percent from the free-throw line.


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