Wilbekin return paces Florida offense

What a difference a point guard makes. Florida senior Scottie Wilbekin was reinstated for Monday's game at Jacksonville, and the improvement was drastic. The ball movement improved with a starting lineup of four seniors, including a point guard on the floor to run the offense, as No. 15 Florida secured an 86-60 win over Jacksonville.

The return of Scottie Wilbekin showed improvement on both ends of the floor, but for the Florida coaching staff, it was a celebration of the improvement the senior guard has shown off the court, too. His five-game suspension to start the season for violation of team rules could become something that turns his life and career around.

"I've got a lot of confidence in him," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said on the post game show. "There's a maturity and growth in him. He sees the world in a different light now, and it has brought perspective to his life. He's got an incredible opportunity to grow. He played very well tonight, but I'm very happy with the person he has become and the leader he has become.

"We really moved and shared the basketball."

Wilbekin ended the game with 12 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

The Florida offense totaled a season-high 19 assists on 31 field goals, including 13 assists on 17 field goals in the first half. After forcing Michael Frazier and DeVon Walker into action at point guard on Thursday against Middle Tennessee, Wilbekin took the reigns of the offense and made it look natural on a night that the game never seemed close.

The lockdown defender also changes the Florida defense. The Gators forced 12 turnovers and held Jacksonville to 37.7 percent from the field.

"We can build off this victory," Donovan said. "Jacksonville is a team averaging more than 80 points a game and we held them to 60."

The Wilbekin addition played a big part in it. His teammates were excited to see one of the leaders back on the floor.

"Having him back out there, a guy we know is going to defend and not mess up -- it felt good having our leader back out there," said Florida center Patric Young, who ended with 13 points and three rebounds in 16 minutes of play because of foul trouble.

Wilbekin put his teammates in positions to score on Monday, something the other Florida guards struggled to do in the absence of him and freshman Kasey Hill (high ankle sprain). Casey Prather was the most noticeable beneficiary, posting 27 points while going 11-13 from the field and not attempting a three-pointer.

Prather has recognized that he isn't an effective shooter from the perimeter, and he's trying to play aggressive and get to the rim. It has changed the Florida offense and given the Gators a different offensive dimension.

"He's moving without the ball, slashing to the basket, offensive rebounding and getting to the free throw line," Donovan said. "He's doing a lot of really good things out there. He's really played good basketball.

Dorian Finney-Smith posted the first double-double of his Florida career, finishing the night with 14 points and 11 rebounds. His energy and versatility off the bench is a valuable part of Donovan's roster.

"I thought he could've even had a bigger night. He missed some stuff around the basket, missed some free throws," Donovan said." He's a very versatile player and has very long arms, a terrific rebounder. We're going to need to get more out of him. He could've had 15 or 16 (rebounds)."

The Gators return home to host Florida State on Friday at 7 p.m. The game against the Seminoles starts a four-game stretching of games against Florida State, Connecticut, Kansas and Memphis.


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