Florida Gators v Arkansas Razorbacks

Florida relies on senior leadership to get past Arkansas in OT

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Saturday’s SEC road contest at Arkansas could have easily been a letdown for No. 10 Florida. The Gators were missing leading scorer Casey Prather and multiple other Gators were banged up, including Scottie Wilbekin (ankle), Patric Young (knees) and Michael Frazier II (calf).

But that didn’t slow the Gators down as they held off Arkansas (11-4, 0-2) for an 84-82 overtime road win at Bud Walton Arena, as the Gators (13-2, 2-0) persevered despite trailing for much of the second half. The win for Florida ended Arkansas’ 23-game home winning streak.

While Florida forward Dorian Finney-Smith did his best to duplicate Prather’s missing production with a phenomenal overall effort of 22 points and 15 rebounds, it was the play of seniors Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin — Florida’s “bench” in this contest as both starters came off the bench due to injury — that came up big down the stretch.

The Gators had three chances to tie the game at the end of regulation and after its first two miserable possessions, it looked like Arkansas would escape with the upset. Young — clearly still bothered by the sore knees that forced him to miss Florida’s Thursday practice — airballed a hook shot from a few feet away and freshman guard Kasey Hill traveled on the second possession.

But after Alandise Harris missed a free throw for Arkansas, Florida had a third chance to tie (or win) in the final minute of regulation with the Razorbacks leading 66-64. With Florida out of timeouts, Scottie Wilbekin calmly went iso — working the strong side of the floor — and knocked in a tough contested mid-range turnaround off-glass to tie the game with two seconds left.

Young and Wilbekin then scored five quick points for Florida to open overtime and the Gators never looked back as they held on for the win.

For Young and Wilbekin to play through injuries, come off of the bench and come through down the stretch was huge for Florida. Finney-Smith carried the Gators for large stretches of time, but Young and Wilbekin really stepped up big to help put the Gators over the hump against Arkansas.

Playing on sore knees that made Young run awkwardly with his legs jutting outward without bending his knees — think of childhood Forrest Gump in his leg braces as Jenny screams “Run, Forrest, Run!” and you’ll get an idea of how Young looked running at times — the senior center managed 10 points and eight rebounds while also being enough of a paint presence on defense to make Arkansas’ interior looks that much more difficult as Florida made its run in the second half.

Wilbekin also struggled at times and couldn’t find his shot, but he wanted the ball in his hands with the game on the line and refused to lose this game for Florida. The senior had 18 points off the bench and was 8-for-10 from the free throw line in helping close the door on Arkansas.

Florida has been banged up and dealt with suspensions all season. The Gators have faced adversity in tight games and lost on a buzzer-beater on the road to UConn. It wasn’t pretty, but Florida got all that it needed from its injury-prone roster to win a tough SEC road game against the SEC’s highest-scoring offense in a tough building.

The Gators keep finding ways to win and Billy Donovan trusts this group of guys. It’s scary to think how good this Gators team could be if they were fully healthy, but they’re getting it done for now and that’s all that matters.

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.