Florida Gators: Erving Walker

PHOENIX -- There is nowhere to hide. There are no secrets to keep and no shocking, revolutionary game plans to unveil.

With Louisville and Florida, this would also be the case in November: Is there a high-profile coaching duo as familiar with one another as Rick Pitino and his former star player and pupil, Billy Donovan? No.

That familiarity will play a factor, no doubt ... but it's also the default situation for any two teams squaring off with a Final Four berth on the line. By this point, the Cardinals and Gators are what they are. Both teams have revealed themselves in their three NCAA tournament victories to date. And both coaches will prepare their teams accordingly.

What do those preparations entail?

There's the obvious strength-on-strength matchup: Over the course of the season, Florida's offense has been one of the best and most efficient in the country. As of Friday's pregame press conferences, the Gators ranked No. 3 in adjusted efficiency, per KenPom.com. Louisville, meanwhile, has likewise been a great defensive team all season -- after Thursday night's historically brutal lockdown of No. 1-seeded Michigan State, the Cardinals rank No. 1 in the nation in defensive efficiency.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here are five things to watch for in Saturday's Florida-Louisville matchup in the Elite 8 (4:30 p.m. ET on CBS) in Phoenix, Ariz.

Man in the middle: Louisville center Gorgui Dieng presents the same kind of trouble for the Gators as Kentucky's Anthony Davis. He's a shot-blocking machine who should make smaller guards Erving Walker (5-foot-8) and Kenny Boynton (6-1) think twice about driving the lane. The 6-11 Dieng already has Louisville's single-season blocks record (123 and counting) and is averaging 9.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Against Michigan State on Thursday, Dieng tied his career high with seven blocks and added nine rebounds, five points and three steals. He's had at least five blocks in a game 11 times this season. Florida can't allow him to control the paint the way he did against the Spartans. It'll be up to 6-9 center Patric Young to make Dieng guard him and try to get him in foul trouble.

Defense, defense, defense: Louisville isn't particularly big, but the Cardinals are long and athletic, and those are the kind of teams the Gators have struggled with the past few seasons. Louisville has been thriving because of its defense. The Cardinals are third nationally in field goal percentage defense (37.7 percent) and have been fantastic in the NCAA tournament, limiting Davidson to 35 percent from the field and holding New Mexico to 56 points, which was its fourth-lowest point total of the season. Michigan State managed just 44 points, including 18 in the first half. Florida's defense has held its three NCAA tournament opponents to an average of 51.0 points and Virginia, Norfolk State and Marquette shot a combined 20.6 percent from 3-point range (13-for-63) and 31.5 percent from the field. The Gators are also averaging 43.0 rebounds per game in the NCAA tournament, which has limited opponents' second shot opportunities.

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PHOENIX -- The No. 7 seeds in the 2012 NCAA tournament were as follows:

Notre Dame. Saint Mary's. Gonzaga. Florida.

Sing it with me now: One of these things is not like the others.

For starters, Florida was the only No. 7 seed to survive the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, and the only one -- after Thursday's 68-58 victory over Marquette -- to reach the Elite Eight and the one-game-from-the-Final-Four precipice it so intensely entails.

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PHOENIX -- A quick recap of Florida's 68-58 win over Marquette Thursday night:

Overview: Maybe Florida can defend after all. The Gators' defense has been their chief deficiency all season, the one major factor keeping such a talented team -- and such a high-powered offense -- from truly breaking through. But after two huge defensive performances in their first two tournament wins, the Gators kept it up, holding Marquette stars Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom to a combined 29 points on just 10-of-30 shooting from the field.

Turning point: As usual, Florida's shooting made the difference. The Gators maintained a six-point lead for the first six minutes of the first half when Erving Walker and Bradley Beal made back-to-back 3s, opening a 12-point advantage the Gators more or less maintained until the final three minutes. That's when Marquette -- thanks to a steal, a timeout call, a made 3 and a fast-break layup, all from Todd Mayo, all in the matter of 50 seconds -- drew the game back to 58-52.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here are five things to watch for in tonight's Florida-Marquette matchup in the Sweet 16 (10:17 p.m. ET on TBS) in Phoenix, Ariz.

Who wins the 3-point line? Florida was terrible from long range in its victory over Virginia (4-for-23) but rebounded with a 10-f0r-28 performance against Norfolk State. The Gators, who average a nation-leading 10 3-pointers per game, have been streaky from long range all season. Marquette's 3-point defense in the NCAA tournament has been pretty good. BYU and Murray State combined to go just 11-for-40 (27.5 percent) from 3-point range. Teams are shooting just 31.8 percent from 3-point range against the Golden Eagles this season.

Stopping Crowder: Marquette forward Jae Crowder was the Big East Player of the Year, and the 6-foot-6 senior has been nearly unstoppable in his last 10 games. Crowder is averaging 21.4 points and 10.7 rebounds and has posted seven double-doubles in that span. He also is averaging 3.1 steals and 2.5 assists and is shooting 51.7 percent from the field in those 10 games. This is a game where not having 6-7 forward Will Yeguete will hurt the Gators, but 6-6 sophomore Casey Prather did a good job against Virginia's Mike Scott. He'll be called upon again to help stop Crowder.

A small advantage: Florida doesn't have a size advantage over many teams, but the Gators are a bit bigger than the Golden Eagles in the frontcourt. Center Patric Young (6-9) and forward Erik Murphy (6-10) have a 2-4 inch height advantage over Crowder and 6-7 forward Jamil Wilson. Will that make a difference, though? Marquette is a solid rebounding team, but the difference could be Bradley Beal. The 6-3 freshman guard is UF's leading rebounder (6.7 per game) and is averaging 8.4 rebounds per game in March.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When Florida lost Will Yeguete to a broken foot in late February, Billy Donovan knew his team was going to have to undergo a makeover.

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Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida forward Will Yeguete broke his foot against Auburn on Feb. 21.
Guards Bradley Beal, Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin would have to spend time at power forward to make up for the loss of the Gators’ best rebounder and post defender. UF wouldn’t be as big inside or rebound as well as when the 6-foot-7 Yeguete was on the floor, but using a four-guard lineup would put more 3-point shooters on the floor and allow the Gators to play more in transition.

But reshaping his team’s identity wasn’t going to be that simple. There was so much else for Donovan to consider:

" How would center Patric Young handle playing without his best friend and roommate?

" How do you defend while using the four-guard lineup, especially against a team that has a powerful front court, like Kentucky with Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones?

" How do you avoid becoming predictable offensively when there are four guards and forward Erik Murphy – who at 6-10 is UF’s best 3-point shooter (43.1 percent) – on the floor?

" And, perhaps most importantly, how do the players respond mentally to the challenge of having to do it all during the final weeks of the regular season and into the post-season?

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Lost in Florida’s impressive blowout victories over Virginia and Norfolk State is the improved play of guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker.

The two still aren’t shooting well from 3-point range -- a combined 3-for-17 -- but they have been much more under control in terms of shot selection and not driving into the lane without a plan and getting caught without anywhere to go with the ball.

[+] EnlargeErving Walker
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesUF coach Billy Donovan wants Erving Walker to take the open shots, but Walker has had to make serious adjustments to his play to accommodate running the offense, too.
Walker has been particularly effective. He has five assists and four turnovers in the two games, but he has been smart with the basketball in the lane. He hasn’t tried to drive and shoot over much bigger players -- like he did against Kentucky’s Anthony Davis.

He’s playing his smartest basketball of the season, and it’s coming at the perfect time, with the Gators (25-10) heading into Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup with Marquette (27-7). Even though this is Walker’s third season as a starter, it’s the first in which he hasn't had an experienced frontcourt, and that makes a difference, UF coach Billy Donovan said.

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Florida shuts down Norfolk State

March, 18, 2012

OMAHA, Neb. - Pleased as he was with the victory, Florida center Patric Young responded to Sunday’s 84-50 shellacking of No. 15 Norfolk State with a sigh and a shoulder shrug.

“We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Young said.

That’s not entirely true. Sunday’s victory propelled the seventh-seeded Gators into the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year, which is more than 52 other NCAA tournament teams can say after the opening weekend of postseason play.

But it was easy to see how it may not have felt like all that big of a deal to Young and his teammates after annihilating a Norfolk State squad that was so bad it was embarrassing.

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OMAHA, Neb. -- Quick thoughts from Florida's 84-50 victory over Norfolk State at the CenturyLink Center.

Overview: Surprising as it was when it happened Friday, Norfolk State's upset of No. 2 seed Missouri seemed like even more of a shocker Sunday when the Spartans turned in a miserable performance in a 34-point loss to No. 7 seed Florida.

Norfolk State -- which became just the fifth No. 15 seed ever to defeat a No. 2 -- trailed by 28 points at intermission before things got even worse in the second half. Two days after shooting 54 percent against Missouri, the Spartans made just 27 percent of their field goal attempts against a Florida squad that advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year.

Senior forward Kyle O'Quinn responded to his 26-point, 14-rebound effort on Friday with a 4-point, 3-rebound clunker in Sunday's loss. He was just 1-of-9 from the field. Norfolk State was outrebounded 48-31.

Anyone who wondered how Norfolk State could've lost to teams such as Division II Elizabeth City State had those questions answered Sunday. The only team that may have taken Norfolk State's defeat harder than the Spartans themselves was Missouri, which will now have an even tougher time living down Friday's epic choke job.

Overshadowed by Norfolk State's ineptitude was another impressive performance by Florida, which is one win away from its second consecutive Elite Eight appearance. The Gators, who will play Marquette in the next round, got 20 points from Kenny Boynton and 14 points and 9 rebounds from Brad Beal. Even though the win appeared to come easily for Florida, Billy Donovan's squad deserves loads of credit for entering the game with intensity and focus.

Turning point: Trailing 6-4 early in the first half, Florida went on a 25-0 scoring run to squelch any early momentum the Spartans may have had. Beal had seven points during the march while Boynton and Erik Murphy added six apiece. When it was all over, Florida led 29-6 with 9:46 remaining before intermission. The Spartans never threatened again.

Key player: Much like they have all season, the Gators exhibited tremendous balance on Sunday. Along with outstanding efforts from Beal and Boynton, Florida got 15 points from Erving Walker, 12 from Mike Rosario and 10 from Murphy.

Key stat: Norfolk State entered the NCAA tournament shooting just 31 percent from 3-point range. The Spartans made 10 of their 19 attempts in their win over Missouri. But they shot just 17.4 percent (4-of-23) from beyond the arc against Florida.

Miscellaneous: Thousands of Kansas fans rose to their feet and cheered Norfolk State's players loudly as the Spartans exited the court after the final. Jayhawks supporters took great delight in Norfolk State's victory over former Big 12 rival Missouri. ... Just like the previous four No. 15 seeds who upset No. 2 seeds, Norfolk State lost in the next round. No 15-seed has ever advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

Up next: Florida improved to 25-10 and advanced to play Marquette in the Sweet 16 this week in the West Region in Phoenix. The Golden Eagles (27-7) defeated BYU and Murray State in their first two NCAA tournament games. Norfolk State -- which was making its first appearance in the Division I NCAA tournament -- ends its season 26-10.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The first couple of weeks of March haven’t gone well for Florida guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker.

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Rich Barnes/Icon SMIThe Gators need their starting backcourt of point guard Erving Walker and shooting guard Kenny Boynton to return to their high-scoring ways.
The Gators’ starting backcourt has had trouble offensively in UF’s three games so far this month.

Boynton averages 16.3 points per game heading into Friday’s NCAA tournament second-round game against Virginia, but he’s only scoring 7.7 points per game in March. He’s shooting just 23.1 percent from the field (6-for-26) and 25.0 percent from 3-point range (4-for-16).

However, Boynton is 7-for-7 from the free-throw line -- which included three huge ones in the closing seconds against Alabama -- and he has eight assists and just one turnover in the three games.

Still, the Gators need the 6-foot-1 junior to return to the offensive form that had him averaging 16.9 points per game and shooting 44.9 percent from 3-point range in nine February games.

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AP Photo/Phil SandlinFreshman Bradley Beal is Florida's second-leading scorer.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Bradley Beal was answering a question about why Florida’s defense and rebounding has slipped from the first half of the season, but what he was saying pretty much described the Gators’ biggest issue heading into the postseason.

Beal said they sometimes just forget what they’re supposed to do in certain situations because their minds are caught up in other aspects of the game. They’re shooting the ball poorly and worrying about that instead of focusing on playing defense and boxing out on the ensuing possession.

"We forget what our role is on the court and what our job is to do on the court," Beal said. "Sometimes we just get caught up in other things. It’s not necessarily us just not wanting to do it. Sometimes it just happens."

In other words: Florida is an immature team.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida guards Kenny Boynton and Bradley Beal were named to the All-Southeastern Conference basketball first team Tuesday, while guard Erving Walker was a second-team selection and center Patric Young was named the league's Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Boynton leads UF in scoring (16.8 ppg) and 3-point shooting (43.4 percent). The 6-foot-1 junior has scored at least 20 points in a game 12 times this season. Beal, a 6-3 freshman, is second in scoring (14.4 ppg) and is tied for the team lead in rebounding (6.5 rpg). Joining those two on the first team are Kentucky's Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Mississippi State's Dee Bost and Arnett Moultrie, and Vanderbilt's John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor.

Walker, who is UF's all-time assists leader (524) and is fourth on the school's all-time scoring list (1,715), averages 12.4 points and 4.7 assists per game. He is joined on the second team by Alabama's JaMychal Green and Trevor Releford, Arkansas' B.J. Young, Kentucky's Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, LSU's Justin Hamilton, Ole Miss' Terrance Henry, and Tennessee's Jeronne Maymon.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After his Gators were handled in a 74-59 loss to the top-ranked juggernaut that is Kentucky on Sunday, Billy Donovan was quick to find a silver lining amid the dark clouds of UF's third straight loss.

Senior point guard Erving Walker summed up the losing streak, saying UF played with a "lack of effort versus Georgia, but besides that, we played well versus Vanderbilt -- but that's a good team on their home court -- and Kentucky is playing like the best team in the country.

"Yeah, definitely, we've got to shake this off."

Enter Donovan, who praised his team's effort immediately after Sunday's loss to Kentucky.

If there is a bright side to the losing streak that ended what had been a much more promising regular season just a couple of weeks ago, Donovan says, it's the opportunity for his Gators to learn what it takes to practice, to lead and to win.

"The biggest thing going forward is commitment to work collectively as a team," he said, "whether it's in practice or a game and every little detail that goes with it."

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Erving Walker will play his final game at the O'Connell Center on Sunday when 13th-ranked Florida plays host to top-ranked Kentucky.

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Kim Klement/US PresswireWith 519 assists, Erving Walker already owns the Florida record.
But don't expect him to get emotional when he gets a framed jersey in a pregame ceremony alongside his parents and cousin.

"I'll be all right," Walker said. "I'm not going to cry or anything."

That has pretty much been Walker's attitude throughout his Florida career. He never gets too high or too low. He's right in the middle, which may not make him much of a vocal leader (and he has gotten criticized for that by his coach), but it also means he's never going to panic or let the moment overpower him, either.

"Erving's not a very demonstrative, outspoken, loud guy," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "Even when he makes shots, like he did at Arkansas [when he scored a career-high 31 points], you never really see an emotional change, and I think that’s a good thing.

"The one thing I think affects players negatively is when they are on an emotional roller-coaster ride during the course of the game."

Walker's play, however, has been a bit up and down in his career. He has made some big shots -- such as the 30-footer he hit to force a second overtime in a victory over Georgia last season -- but he has missed some big ones, too -- like the 3-pointer he missed at the end of regulation in an overtime loss to Butler in the NCAA Tournament last season.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After five months of hoping senior point guard Erving Walker would become Florida's vocal on-court leader, coach Billy Donovan has decided he's going to look somewhere else.

Whether it's sophomore center Patric Young, sophomore guard Scottie Wilbekin, or freshman guard Bradley Beal, Donovan wants one of them -- or a combination of the three -- to become the player who huddles the team in critical situations, keeps them focused when things aren't going well, and ensures that the 13th-ranked Gators (22-7, 10-4 Southeastern Conference) play with a high level of passion and energy. Walker didn't do any of that in Saturday's loss at Georgia.

"Erving is a really good player and he’s done a lot of great things," Donovan said Monday. "He’s a pretty even-keeled guy, but there are sometimes where your team can reflect the personality of the guy in charge, and with him being in charge and when things are not going well for our team, there is sometimes that we need some more fire out of him.

"Especially when you play on the road, it’s hostile, it’s loud, someone has got to get in there and grab each other and say, 'This is what we’re doing,' and, 'Move on to the next play,' and there’s not a lot of that. Erving has always been a kid since I’ve coached him here [who] has always tried to do on the court playing-wise what I’ve asked him to do. He’s always been very compliant, he’s coachable, he’s a great kid, he does all of that stuff. But some of the stuff that could take our team to a different level, I’m not so sure he’s capable or wants to."

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McElwain discusses new Florida football
SEC Network's Greg McElory and Booger McFarland sit down to discuss the future of Florida football with head coach Jim McElwain.