Gators Finding Passion for Defense

Florida hasn't broken the 60-point mark in the last four games. The shots aren't falling from the outside and only Thursday against Kent State did they find a player other than Vernon Macklin who can score in the post. This would have been a recipe for disaster for Florida teams over the past few years. However, this season they have found a way to survive.

It starts when they don't have the ball.

No matter how bad the offense has been this season, the Gators have found a new passion for defense. And it's a good thing, because they would have multiple added losses if they didn't clamp down on opponents' scoring.

While the Gators have struggled to break 60 points in recent games, their opponents have struggled with it, too. Florida has held four straight opponents under 60 points, also doing it in six of the last seven games.

"We're trying to force home with them that we're going to be a defensive team," Donovan said. "We're going to have nights where we score and nights where we struggle. That's just the way it's going to be. We've got to find ways to get stops, and that's something we have to hang our hat on."

It wasn't always that way. Florida opened the season giving up an average of 69.3 points in the first three games. In the last four, the defense has only allowed an average of 53 points.

The coaches have harped on the team in practice about the importance of defense, but it was their offensive struggles that made the players buy into its importance.

"The coaches stress it so much in practice that it's really in our heads," Macklin said. "We've got to play defense, guard the three-point line, post and rebound."

When the shots stopped falling and Florida found itself in close games with less talented teams, the intensity on the defensive end needed to increase.

"The thing that's gotten lost over the past three or four games is how much these guys have improved defensively," Donovan said. "If you go back to the Wilmington, Ohio State or some of those early games, we were giving up 52 or 55% from the field. It's been four straight games now that we've kept people below 40% for the game."

The returning players have bought into the defensive concepts this season, but the only reason freshmen are seeing the court is because of their attitude on defense. The points are coming from the starting five. The freshmen off the bench must bring defensive intensity if they want to see time on the court.

Scottie Wilbekin has come off the bench to run the offense as the point guard, but he might be the team's best perimeter defender. His tenacity and quick feet help him to stay in position. Wilbekin graduated high school after his junior year to play for the Gators, but he looks like an upperclassman on defense.

"He's really good," Macklin said. "To be that young, he's got it understood on defense. He's got some fast hands, and he's a great defender for his age."

When Wilbekin makes his biggest impact, it usually goes unnoticed in the box score. The Florida head coach has been impressed with his ability be in the right position, even when his man doesn't have the ball.

"There were several times on the defensive end of the floor that something bad was going to happen to our team," Donovan said. "He rotated, stepped up, guarded a guy or cut a guy off. He made some really good plays that broke the momentum for them. It was one of the best game he played since he's been here."

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