Gator guards lead the way
DALLAS — In the NCAA Tournament and Final Four where college basketball becomes the game of guards, there is a reason these Gators are smiling.
Florida is coached by a former point guard, Billy Donovan, and his extension on the court, Scottie Wilbekin, enters Saturday’s national semifinal against Connecticut having not committed a turnover in his last 73 minutes of playing time. Couple that with shooting guard Michael Frazier — the player Donovan called the best shooter he ever coached, with apologies to Mike Miller — and Florida’s backcourt is the class of Texas this weekend.
The best chance to leave their mark Saturday will be on the defensive end. Combined, Wilbekin and Frazier average 27.2 points in the postseason. Connecticut All-American Shabazz Napier is averaging 23.3 points in the tournament. He put up 24 points in the second round and 25 twice — against Villanova and Michigan State — to carry UConn to Cowboys Stadium.
“For us, UConn’s guards are really good, Shabazz and (Ryan) Boatright do a great job of creating shots for themself, whether it’s getting in the lane and finishing or pulling up from the dribble,” Wilbekin said. “They also do a good job of getting in the lane and setting up their other teammates.”
Wilbekin is an All-SEC defender who missed the final three minutes of Florida’s Dec. 2 loss to the Huskies, a 65-64 defeat in Storrs, with an ankle injury.
“He can beat you with drives, he can beat you with shots, he can beat you from behind the line and he can beat you passing the ball,” Donovan said.
Wilbekin elevated his scoring pace in the postseason, averaging 16 points to earn the Most Outstanding Player in the South Region. He knows what he does with the ball will count, but it won’t be the most important element of his game.
“I think that his ability to pull up from anywhere and the quickness that he pulls up and with the efficiency that he makes difficult shots,” Wilbekin said of the challenge of defending Napier. “That’s what makes him hard to guard. He also has the ability to get in the lane with his quickness and his first step. So just the different weapons that he has on offense is what makes it hard for him to be guarded.”
UConn coach Kevin Ollie appreciates the style of guard play from the Gators. Frazier’s deadly 3-point stroke and transition defense are tops on his list of numerous Florida concerns.
“(Frazier is) an outstanding weapon. He creates so many spacing challenges for us on the defensive end where we have to guard him,” Ollie said. “They do a wonderful job, Coach Donovan does a wonderful job with his pick-and-roll schemes where he spaces the court out. You have (Patric) Young diving, Wilbekin coming off, there’s so many threats out there. We’re going to have to make sure we communicate and talk at a level five, so we can make sure he gets covered. Then also in transition we have to get back and locate and identify where Michael Frazier is at all times.”