Florida Gators: Erik Murphy

AUSTIN, Texas -- The Minnesota Golden Gophers couldn't handle the pressure of the NCAA tournament, thanks in large part to the pressure applied by the Florida Gators as third-seeded Florida extended its defense and, as a direct result, its run in the NCAAs with a 78-64 win over the No. 11 Gophers at the Erwin Center Sunday.

Overview: Florida built a 23-point first-half lead behind its defense and prolific shooting, weathered a flurry of 3-pointers from Minnesota's Andre Hollins, and moved into the next round. The Gators were led by guard Mike Rosario (25 points) and forward Erik Murphy (15). That pair combined to score 24 of Florida's first 30 points and hit eight of their first nine shots. Hollins, who had 25 points, made a run midway through the second half to help the Gophers get within single digits a couple of times. But Florida and Rosario had the answer each and every time.

Turning point: Florida opted for a full-court defense early in the game and was able to not only fluster Minnesota's offense but also kick-start its own scorers. The Gators hit their first four shots and didn't cool off much from there as they went on to shoot 65 percent in the first half. Murphy and Rosario proved to be a prolific duo from beyond the arc as they combined to hit 10 of 14 3-pointers in the first half.

Key player: Rosario, who was benched during the Northwestern State game Friday because of a failure to block out, made sure he wouldn't be taken off the floor Sunday. The guard, who has averaged 12.2 points, had a game-high 17 in the first half on 71 percent shooting. He was a 44 percent shooter coming into the game.

Key stat: Minnesota had been dominating teams on the boards and finished the Big Ten season tied for first in rebounding margin with a 7.8 differential. Against Florida, the Gophers were unable to consistently get to the glass. The Gators had a 16-8 rebound margin in the first half. The Gators limited the Gophers to no second chance points while Florida had six in the first 20 minutes.

Next up: Florida advances to play the winner of the San Diego State-Florida Gulf Coast game in Arlington, Texas, on Friday.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Fourth-ranked Florida was finally tested in Southeastern Conference play on Saturday night.

The Gators had a little trouble, but they still aced it.

[+] EnlargeScottie Wilbekin
AP Photo/Phil SandlinFlorida's Scottie Wilbekin shoots a 3-pointer on his way to 13 points against Ole Miss.
Florida never trailed and led by double digits for more than 30 minutes in a 78-64 victory over Ole Miss in front of 12,522 at the O’Connell Center. The 14 points was the lowest margin of victory the Gators have had in SEC play -- and they still were never in danger of losing the game.

"This was our toughest game, by far," point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "They didn’t make it easy on us. We had to come out and play our best basketball. They had a lot of different weapons and we just had to try and shut them down."

Florida (18-2, 8-0 SEC) had won its previous seven SEC games by an average of 28.3 points. The Gators had beaten four opponents by 31 or more points and the closest game they had played was a 17-point victory at Georgia -- a team they had beaten by 33 points to open league play.

Florida took a double-digit lead with 10 minutes, 20 seconds remaining in the first half and Ole Miss (17-4, 6-2) never got closer than 12 points in the second half. That’s despite getting 25 points from Marshall Henderson, who made 7-of-11 3-pointers. The SEC’s leading scorer had to work for his points, though, and made several leaners and tough shots over Wilbekin and guard Kenny Boynton.

"He’s going to get his shots up," UF forward Erik Murphy said. "He’s going to get to the free-throw line. He’s really good at that. He’s crafty. We just wanted to try to limit his open shots. I think we did a pretty good job of that. He hit some tough ones. Some of the shots he hit, up-and-under, step-in, floater 3s, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody do that."

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A quick look at No. 4 Florida’s 78-64 victory over No. 16 Ole Miss on Saturday night at the O’Connell Center:

Overview: This one wasn’t as easy as the previous seven Southeastern Conference games, but the Gators still managed another double-digit victory.

Erik Murphy scored 19 points -- thanks to a 5-for-6 performance from 3-point range -- and grabbed six rebounds. Patric Young had a double-double (13 points, 12 rebounds) and Mike Rosario had 14 points.

Ole Miss (17-4, 6-2 SEC) scored the most points on Florida (18-2, 8-0 SEC) since the Gators gave up 67 to Kansas State on Dec. 22. No team had scored more 61 since then. Marshall Henderson led Ole Miss with 25 points.

Turning point: Ole Miss cut Florida’s lead to 13 points with seven minutes remaining, but Murphy responded with a solid two-minute stretch on both ends of the floor that put the game out of reach.

Murphy hit a 3-pointer to put UF ahead 66-50 and then blocked Murphy Holloway’s shot. After a Young basket, Murphy grabbed a defensive rebound. The Gators turned the ball over, but Murphy made up for that by forcing another turnover that led to Scottie Wilbekin’s basket to put UF ahead 70-50 with five minutes to play.

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While Florida still has one scholarship left in the Class of 2013 and remains in the hunt for No. 4 senior Julius Randle (Dallas/Prestonwood Christian), the Gators are now focusing the majority of their recruiting time and effort on the Class of 2014.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A quick look at No. 10 Florida’s 83-52 victory against No. 17 Missouri on Saturday afternoon at the O’Connell Center:

Overview: This was supposed to be a battle between the SEC's two best teams.

That lasted less than five minutes.

Florida rolled out to a quick start and completely dominated the Tigers. In doing so, the Gators (14-2, 4-0 SEC) have pretty much established themselves as the class of the league. Missouri (13-3, 2-2 SEC) was overwhelmed offensively and defensively, and ended up shooting a season-low 32.7 percent from the field.

Florida had four players score in double figures. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin had 13 points and 10 assists, forward Erik Murphy scored 15 points, and guard Kenny Boynton scored 14.

Turning point: How about the game’s first 3:14. Florida raced out to an 11-0 lead during that span, and Missouri only pulled within single digits once after that. Missouri committed two turnovers and went 0-for-5 from the field while Florida went 4-for-5. The Gators scored two baskets in the game’s first minute, including a big dunk by Patric Young, and that got the crowd in the sold-out O’Connell Center into the game pretty quickly.

Key player: Wilbekin had another dominant defensive performance. Two days after shutting down Texas A&M’s Elston Turner, Wilbekin blanketed Missouri point guard Phil Pressey, holding him to two points on 1 of 7 shooting. Pressey, who had been averaging 13.8 points 9.8 assists in his previous six games, had 6 assists and 10 turnovers.

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Weekend Watch: Florida-Arizona preview

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
2:00
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Mark Lyons and Kenny BoyntonUSA TODAY Sports, Icon SMIDon't be surprised to see Kenny Boynton, left, and Mark Lyons take crucial shots on Saturday night.
Editor's note: Each Friday morning, Jay Bilas will break down the weekend's top game. This week it’s No. 5 Florida (7-0) at No. 8 Arizona (7-0) at 10 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN.

Gators outlook: The difference for Florida this season is defense. Last season, UF gave up 40 percent shooting from 3-point range and got hurt by being overextended. This season, the Gators are staying home more and packing it in. Instead of playing out in passing lanes and denying, they are playing off more, not playing as far up the line, and showing their chests to the ball and building a wall to protect the lane and the rim. That has meant fewer help rotations and better defensive rebounding, limiting opponents to one challenged shot (outrebounding opponents by 10.7 per game). The results are obvious. Florida has a top-five defense, and has done it with both man-to-man and zone. The Gators still press, speed the game and make you play at a speed you don’t practice. And they have done a great job of not just forcing turnovers, but converting off turnovers. Florida has scored more than twice as many points off turnovers as its opponents (21.3 to 9.9).

On the offensive end, UF is a ball-screen team that can really stretch out a defense, and really attacks and gets to the free throw line. Florida has made more free throws than its opponents have attempted. Four Gators average between 14.4 points and 10.3 points per game. This is a team that scored 74 points against Wisconsin, a team that gave up only 53 points per game last season, and blasted Marquette and Florida State.

Florida has good, experienced guards in Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin, a strong presence in Patric Young (an interior player who, when he keeps it simple, can be really effective), and an elite and versatile defender in Will Yeguete, who can defend multiple spots, get offensive rebounds and affect the game without scoring.

Wildcats outlook: Last season, Arizona was not a great shooting team, but could not compensate for it with second-shot opportunities or post-ups because Sean Miller did not have the personnel. This season, he has the personnel. The Wildcats have great size up front and very good depth. (But don’t listen to those who suggest that having big-guy depth gives you extra fouls to waste, which is silly. You don’t waste fouls, which puts your opponent at the free throw line for common fouls and leads to losses.) With freshmen Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett, Miller has two big men who can affect the game. Tarczewski is a traditional low-post banger who seeks out contact and can score around the goal, and is the team's top rebounder. Jerrett is a long-armed big man who can step away and knock in an open 3-point shot.

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Military trip resonates with Gators

November, 14, 2012
11/14/12
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ABOARD THE USS BATAAN -- Erik Murphy sat with his Florida basketball teammates in a hotel meeting room last Thursday night and listened to one of the most horrifying and uplifting stories he had ever heard.

Army veteran Andrew Coughlan described surviving a mortar attack in Iraq because another soldier jumped on top of him to shield him from the explosion. The other soldier, Coughlan’s best friend in the unit, didn’t survive.

Coughlan talked about his grief over his friend’s death and the loss of other friends in the Iraq war. He was wracked with guilt over having survived when others didn’t. He described what it was like to come home and live with that memory. And finally, he talked about accepting what happened and deciding to live for the soldiers who didn’t come back.

"His story was just ... it’s so like ... I really don’t know how to explain it," Murphy said. "It was unreal. It was an unreal story sitting in the room listening to it. You can hear how it affected him, how it changed his life, and how it first affected him negatively and then he took that and changed it to a positive. He’s telling the story just to help other people. It’s something special."

That was the most powerful moment the Gators experienced during a two-day span that culminated with the Navy-Marine Corps Classic aboard the USS Bataan at Naval Station Mayport on Friday night. But there were plenty of others that affected UF’s players.

In touring the Bataan on Thursday, the Gators met various members of the military. Some were officers and some were enlisted men and women. Some were older, but some were their age -- or even younger. Even though the players know there are thousands of men and women just a few years out of high school serving in the military, it didn’t really sink in until they met some of them.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Billy Donovan's decision to suspend PG Scottie Wilbekin indefinitely means the job of directing the Gators' offense will fall to senior Kenny Boynton.

Boynton has run the point in spurts through the past three seasons, mainly in relief of starting PG Erving Walker, who graduated as the school's all-time assist leader. Boynton, who is on pace to become the school's all-time leading scorer, is the Gators' top man defender, so his role there won't change.

The bigger issue for Donovan is finding someone to replace the 6-foot-2 Wilbekin in the starting lineup for Friday's season opener against Georgetown and to relieve Boynton when he's on the bench. Donovan could slide 6-3 Mike Rosario into the shooting guard spot to go along with 6-9 C Patric Young, 6-10 F Erik Murphy and 6-7 F Will Yeguete.

Or Donovan could go with 6-6 freshman Michael Frazier, who scored 21 points in UF's exhibition victory over Nebraska-Kearney. Even if Rosario starts, Wilbekin's suspension will mean more playing time for Frazier and two other freshmen: 6-4 Dillon Graham and 6-0 Braxton Ogbueze. The Gators cannot use 6-6 G/F Casey Prather on Friday because he is out with a concussion.

"This throws a wrench," Donovan said. "We've got to do some things in practice to make some adjustments going into this game.

"The biggest thing for me as a coach is how do I get these guys to understand what they're doing because there's going to be a lot of different lineups on the floor."

Donovan has a track record of successfully juggling lineups. He got the Gators to the Elite Eight last season after losing Yeguete -- the Gators' top post defender and key cog in their press -- to a broken foot in February.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Billy Donovan was upbeat on Friday during the news conference announcing Bradley Beal's decision to enter the NBA Draft.

[+] EnlargeBradley Beal
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesGators coach Billy Donovan said he will miss Bradley Beal's team-first attitude and work ethic.
He is obviously sad to see Beal leave, but Donovan shouldn't be devastated for two reasons: He knows things could have been a lot worse, and he had been planning for just this situation.

As the season ended with a loss to Louisville in the Elite Eight, there was speculation the Gators would lose four of their five starters. Erving Walker is graduating, but Beal, Patric Young and Kenny Boynton were also considering leaving. Young and Boynton, however, elected to stay, which means the Gators will have one of the Southeastern Conference's top scorers and big men on the floor in 2012-13.

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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 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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Florida shuts down Norfolk State

March, 18, 2012
3/18/12
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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.

[+] EnlargeBoynton & Walker
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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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Top-ranked Kentucky’s 74-59 victory over Florida wasn’t about going 16-0 in the Southeastern Conference.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Davis
Kim Klement/US PresswireKentucky forward Anthony Davis reacts after he made a 3-pointer in the second half of a 74-59 win against Florida.
It wasn’t about setting a school record for the most regular-season victories.

Or solidifying its claim to the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

All those things are important, but UK coach John Calipari made Sunday’s game about something else: pride.

"I told them prior to the game, 'Look, bottom line is if we lose we’re still No. 1 seed [in the Southeastern Conference tournament]. It doesn’t change our seeding. It doesn’t do anything, but it’s about pride. And I know you guys want to win. Just play to win and if they beat us, they beat us,’ ” Calipari said. "That was the message prior to the game: Just go have pride and play."

Considering how the Wildcats (30-1, 16-0) dominated the 13th-ranked Gators (22-9, 10-6), it’s hard to imagine how well they would have played had there really been something on the line. Kentucky outscored Florida 40-28 in the paint, blocked nine shots, held the Gators to 38.2 percent shooting, and turned the ball over just six times.

Anthony Davis nearly had a triple-double -- 22 points, 12 rebounds, and six blocks -- and Terrence Jones had 19 points, four rebounds and three blocks to help Kentucky win its 22nd game in a row and become the third UK team to post a 16-0 conference record (1996 and 2003)

"That’s as good as we played all year," Calipari said.

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