February off to a Hot Start

February has been the month that haunted the Gators for the past three seasons. In the last three seasons, Florida has gone 11-10 in February. This year, February has been the opposite. The Gators have started the month 3-0 because of their deepest roster since 2007. The bench has allowed the Florida starters to stay fresh throughout the season.

The frontcourt is as deep as it has been since 2007 when the Gators could use Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Chris Richard and Marreese Speights off the bench to score.

The frontcourt this year doesn't look like it has the players who will experience as much success in the NBA, but Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus, Chandler Parsons, Erik Murphy and Patric Young provide plenty of depth to where one player's performance doesn't determine the game.

The depth has allowed Florida to run more of the fullcourt press that head coach Billy Donovan wants to use.

"That's something Coach D loves because we can give teams multiple looks," Macklin said. "We can also press more and do different things. It's helping out a lot. It's even better when you're a starter and come out of the game, then you realize you have all these guys there to help you out. There isn't a drop off."

The most important piece off the bench has come in a player who should be a senior in high school at the Rock School in Gainesville. Scottie Wilbekin is the third guard on the team, and his performance has allowed Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton to each get extended breaks on the bench.

Wilbekin only has one game with double figures, coming in his third game on campus against North Carolina A&T. The freshman has 43 assists and 17 turnovers on the season.

"He has been great, especially since he should be in high school," Walker said. "He's more than holding his own. He's not just giving me a breather, but he's contributing to the team and making plays. We can't ask for more from him."

South Carolina REVIEW: Donovan knew his team would be focused for Wednesday's game against the Gamecocks after South Carolina won in Gainesville during the third game of the conference schedule.

"Our guys had a respect level going into Columbia knowing that this team beat us on our home court and that it would be a challenge at their place," Donovan said.

Donovan specifically applauded Florida's ability to defend the three-point line. The Gamecocks went 8-for-22 from behind the arc, but they held freshman guard Bruce Ellington to 2-for-10 from the distance after he hurt Florida from behind the line earlier in the year.

The one negative for Florida came in turnovers. They hurt the team earlier in the season, but the Gators haven't struggled turning it over in conference play. Turnovers snuck up on them Wednesday night, but Donovan isn't worried about it and credits the style of defense South Carolina plays for forcing Florida to turn it over 16 times.

"The way they play defense, they're very aggressive in the paint," Donovan said. "When you drive in the lane, they block up and try to block them. The hardest thing to do is interior pass when you try to drive the lane and pass to someone else in the lane. It looks like they're open, and we had a couple plays like that where we made interior passes, but it needed to be passed outside.

"Their rotations are different than sometimes because of their aggressiveness. What looks to be open is not open because it gets closed down."

WALKER BREAKS OUT: Erving Walker has given the Gators clutch shots, but his three-point shot was an issue before the South Carolina game. The junior went 4-for-5 from behind the three-point line against the Gamecocks and went for 25 points. He was 7-for-9 from the field and 7-for-9 from the free throw line.

The most troubling statistic was that Walker had made only eight three-pointers in his previous six games. The four he made on Wednesday night proved that he should be fine down the stretch.

"It's always good to make them, but I'm not even focusing in on the makes and misses," Walker said. "I'm just focused on taking good ones. I need to stay confident."

Walker didn't even realize that he had 25 points until the team was on their way back to Gainesville when Macklin told him about it on the plane. The junior's scoring isn't important in his own mind.

"Just as long as this team is playing like it's capable," Walker said, "I don't care how many (points) I get."


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