Healthy bench gives Florida a lift

Injuries, suspensions and academic issues have kept the Gators from having their complete bench throughout most of this season. Saturday was a glimpse of what it can provide. Florida had its full complement of players after backup point guard Kasey Hill returned from a groin injury, and the bench outscored the LSU bench 28-2 in an 18-point win in the O'Connell Center.

The added depth allowed Billy Donovan to give his starters more of a break. The blowout score helped that, too, but he mentioned last week that the addition of Kasey Hill should help get a breather for more of the regulars. Michael Frazier was the only Florida starter to play more than 29 minutes.

Four bench players -- Hill (21), Dorian Finney-Smith (18), Chris Walker (14) and DeVon Walker (11) -- played double-figure minutes. The Florida bench took advantage of its opportunities, outscoring the LSU bench 28-2 in critical periods.

"It was great," said point guard Scottie Wilbekin. "They did a great job of stretching the lead and it gave us older guys some time to rest. That's a perfect situation."

The bench depth was an important part of Saturday's game plan. Having everyone healthy meant the Gators could run and use their depth to give a breather to starters. Donovan saw on film that LSU's offense succeeded when it had time to set up in the half court and feed the ball to big men Jordan Mickey and Johnny O'Bryant III.

Speeding the game up would negate that advantage, and it worked because of the added bodies for Florida.

"We got really, really good minutes from our bench all the way around," Donovan said.

Hill's return lessened the pressure on Wilbekin, who was on the bench for nine of a possible 120 minutes in the three games Hill missed. Wilbekin was able to sit for 11 minutes during Saturday's game against LSU.

Hill had a team-high five assists and two steals in 21 minutes of action.

"Kasey gets in the lane and he's fast," Finney-Smith said. "He can get in the lane and always makes the right play. I'm glad he's back out there because we missed him."

The game was also a benefit for freshman big man Chris Walker, who played 14 minutes to double his previous season. Walker ended the game with two points, six rebounds, two blocks and one steal.

"It's very important," Finney-Smith said of the freshman's contribution. "He stays on the glass. He's very active. I'm proud of the way he played. He looked comfortable today.

"He jumps so high. He just does stuff that you don't see normal people do."

The score played a part in his increased minutes, but Donovan saw an opportunity for the freshman to play more because of LSU's offensive scheme.

"It was good to see Chris get more minutes," Donovan said. "This was a good game for him because LSU is a high-low team offensively that has a lot of weapons. It's easy for Chris because he's playing post defense or playing high post. It was a good game for him to inject his athleticism."

Finney-Smith had his second straight positive game after breaking out of a long shooting slump. He led the Gators with 16 points, hitting a team-high four three-pointers, after hitting one of his previous 23 three-pointers going into Tuesday's game against Vanderbilt.

"He stretches the defense," Donovan said. "He has the ability to shoot the ball well from behind the line, he just went through a stretch where he didn't. As a coach, you want to stick with him because it gives him some confidence."

He also gives the opposing defense a different look. Florida starts seniors Will Yeguete and Patric Young in the frontcourt, two big men that can't stretch the opposing defense. Finney-Smith comes off the bench to replace Yeguete and provides an instant offensive impact, causing the defense to respect the three-pointer.

"From an offensive standpoint, we're more of a power team with Yeguete and Young," Donovan said. "When you bring (Finney-Smith) in, we can really space the floor because he can put it on the ground, pass it and shoot it. He's a handful because he can offensive and defensive rebound. When he's shooting the ball like he did tonight, it really opens up things for everybody."

Sophomore DeVon Walker has also provided an impact from the bench. His long, lanky frame allows him to make an impact on defense, but his newfound three-point stroke is giving the Gators scoring off the bench in recent games. He dealt with a migraine before the game but managed to play 11 minutes and score six points on two made three-pointers.

"He has played well," Donovan said. "He's getting better. I have confidence in him."

Fightin Gators Top Stories