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February 10, 2014
Gators not taking defense for granted in rematch
Jordan McRae probably doesn't have a whole lot to say about the last time Florida and Tennessee met on a basketball court. Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes probably have similar feelings.
Tennessee's version of the "big three" was stifled in a 67-41 UF victory inside the O'Connell Center. McRae had the worst game of his career, shooting 1 of 15 from the field for five points - more than 14 points below his season average. Maymon and Stokes - the closest thing Knoxville has to twin towers - fought double teams all day but still powered through for 24 combined points.
Only surprising to those who haven't met Billy Donovan is the fact Florida players aren't overly excited to talk about the game in hindsight either.
"It was a balance," Gators point guard and best on-ball defender Scottie Wilbekin said when asked if McRae's woes had more to do with his own shooting slump or the Gators' defense. "He still got 15 off. But I think we did a good job of crowding him and forcing him into tougher shots than he would have liked to take. He's their best player, so we tried to focus on him, help whoever's guarding him."
Defense has been Florida's strength all season. It's why the Gators are 21-2, 10-0 in Southeastern Conference play and ranked No. 3 in college basketball despite the reality that 193 Division I teams are averaging more points per game than Florida.
Then again, only five Division I teams are allowing fewer points per game (57.4).
Why it's a story as the Gators head into their first truly defining stretch of the SEC schedule with five of their next eight games on the road has everything to do with Saturday. Against Alabama, Florida looked strangely human defensively. Assignments weren't followed, the 3-point line was strictly policed and the fouls added up to 21 with 22 Crimson Tide free throws by game's end.
"It's going to be a different game. I can feel that," senior forward Will Yeguete said in regards to Tuesday night. "We know McRae's not going to come and go 1 for 15 in their place. We just need to do a better job defensively."
"I don't think that during the course of the game you're just going to shut a team out where they're never getting up a good shot. There's going to be some times where they have gotten good shots," Donovan said. "There were times in the (last) game where we really were in a bad spot, then rotated really well and created a lot of help and we made a play. And there were times in the game where we broke down and didn't get where we were supposed to get, they had an open shot and they missed it. So it was probably a combination of both. What they shot against us from the field in the first half (26.9 percent) I don't think was really 100 percent indicative of us defensively."
-- ETC. --
-- Forward Casey Prather (left ankle) received another day of rest Sunday by sitting out of practice but was expected to return to practice Monday. Prather continues to deal with soreness but will play Tuesday against the Volunteers. He scored 15 points on 7 of 11 shooting against Alabama, his first double-digit game since suffering the injury.
-- Donovan on Chris Walker continuing to mesh into the team: "Chris is getting more and more comfortable. He adds depth to our frontcourt. With him, we're a deep team across the frontcourt. I think the one thing that stands out about Tennessee is how well they rebound the basketball. They've got the largest rebounding differential in our league. They're getting back better than anyone in our league. Inside will be a battle for both teams. For us, having Chris gives us a little more depth in our frontcourt that we didn't have the first time we played them."