NCAA Basketball Tournament - Louisville v Florida

Florida got Shabazzed, but Gators have a lot to like

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The No. 15 Florida Gators showed late-game resiliency, senior leadership and an ability to make key plays in big moments as they played on the road at Gampel Pavilion and scored on their final possession — a beautiful cut and layup by Michael Frazier II off an assist from Casey Prather — against No. 12 UConn.

Then Shabazz Napier happened.

The Gators can’t really hang their head on one of college basketball’s most clutch players knocking down a shot in his home building. Florida has too much to take away from this loss and a brutal upcoming schedule can’t leave them sulking.

Struggling with offense for much of the season, senior center Patric Young had 17 points and seven rebounds and his three-point play with 1:18 left was his third go-to bucket in the post in the game’s final minutes. Young contributed to Philip Nolan and Tyler Olander fouling out and on that three-point play with 1:18 left, the senior sank the free throw to go 5-for-7 for the day on the road as a 55 percent foul shooter.

His touch is off at times and he isn’t as fluid as he used to be, but Young plays hard, is a decent passer out of the post and his two interceptions of UConn passes on defense made it appear as though an NFL career might be more feasible following this season in Gainesville.

But for now, the Gators will take that performance from Young every time they can.

Casey Prather also continued his unlikely rise as the SEC’s current best scoring threat. The senior forward is averaging 19.1 points per game and hit that number 19 on the head against UConn while contributing seven rebounds and three assists.

At times Prather appeared unguardable in the second half.

The best part about Prather’s scoring ability against UConn was his aggression getting to the basket and trying to score inside. Prather attempted no three-pointers — the Gators were 3-for-9 for the game as a team — and was 8-for-13 from the field, using hesitation moves, and some straight-line attacks to the rack to score.

Scottie Wilbekin also made some plays for the Gators, but he’ll need to be more consistent handling the ball as he makes his comeback from his early season suspension. The senior point guard made some critical turnovers in the second half, including a jump pass that resulted in a UConn fast-break bucket and a botched 3-on-2 break that resulted in an awkward shot and a bailout foul on the ensuing Florida offensive rebound.

But for Wilbekin’s inconsistencies, he’ll also be aided by the return of freshman point guard and McDonald’s All-American Kasey Hill — who has been out since November 16th and could return soon — and continued playing time in this early season. The Gators had 16 turnovers to eight assists as a team and struggled on offense at times.

But Florida has been in some big games that have gone to the wire already this season, winning 67-66 over in-state rival Florida State and now with this loss to UConn and they can’t think about this loss too much as their next two games come against Kansas and Memphis on December 10th and 17th respectively.

The Gators are playing at a high level and one of those two games could be close going late into the game as well. And Florida isn’t even into the SEC portion of the schedule yet.

As long as their seniors step up and they integrate Kasey Hill into the lineup, this Florida team can be really good.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.