Friday, November 23, 2012 7:50 pm
Wilbekin helps No. 7 Florida beat UCF 79-66
By MARK LONGAP Sports Writer
Or maybe Mike Rosario played his way out.
Wilbekin had 17 points, five rebounds and eight assists - all career highs - and the seventh-ranked Gators beat UCF 79-66 Friday. It was considerably more than what Florida expected from Wilbekin going into the season.
The junior had been slated to be the team's starting point guard and defensive lynchpin before a suspension left him out of the mix. He sat out three games before being reinstated, and coach Billy Donovan said he needed to work his way back into the lineup.
"I don't know what he expects for me to prove," Wilbekin said. "I'm just working. I'm just playing basketball. I'm not worried about that."
Wilbekin may have done enough Friday to get his spot back.
It certainly helped that Rosario self-destructed.
Rosario played just four minutes in the second half, pulled after two quick turnovers.
"I'm at a point with him right now where I just can't deal with the turnovers," Donovan said. "There's good and bad turnovers. There are turnovers where you're trying to make the right play, and for whatever reason, you don't quite execute the pass. But then you have what I would consider a high-stepping, one knee up, look away, up in the air, that's in the third row. We're not going to tolerate it.
"I gave him an opportunity to go back in there and he makes another poor decision," Donovan added.
Rosario's mistakes helped UCF (3-2) cut an 18-point down to seven to open the second half.
But the Gators (5-0) responded by dumping the ball inside to Patric Young, who converted a three-point play, and then getting a huge 3-pointer from Kenny Boynton.
Boynton finished with a season-high 24 points as Florida overcame a sluggish start, dominated the paint and pressed the Knights into a bevy of turnovers.
Boynton, three days after spraining his left ankle, made 7 of 15 shots and added eight rebounds. He played with his ankle tightly taped and got a pain-killing injection before the game.
"I'll probably feel it when I take this tape off," Boynton said.
Like Wilbekin, Casey Prather provided a spark off the bench.
Prather had eight points and four rebounds in his season debut. He missed the first four games because of concussions. He sustained two over a nine-day span in practice leading up to the opener, and the Gators have been cautious with his return.
Prather's opener got off to a shaky start, though.
He played a couple of minutes in the first half before heading to the locker room with a gash below his lower lip. He bit through it and needed four or five stitches.
"It's been kind of tough," Prather said. "As soon as it happened, I was just upset because I didn't know if I was going to be able to play again. I tried not to show any emotion."
He returned in the second half with a bandage covering the stitches and played with the kind of energy that made him a capable backup and a crowd favorite last season. His reverse dunk with 3:36 remaining provided an exclamation point on a strong debut.
"Happy he was able to come back in and play and perform," Donovan said.
Kasey Wilson led the Knights with 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He was 5 of 6 from 3-point range. Tristan Spurlock (14), Isaiah Sykes (12) and Keith Clanton (11) also hit double figures for Central Florida, which has just eight scholarship players and one true guard while dealing with NCAA sanctions.
"It played a role," coach Donnie Jones said. "I'm not taking away from Florida. Billy's got a lot of weapons. They wore us down with constant pressure."
The Gators missed their first 10 shots, but got things going from the 3-point line. Boynton hit one and Wilbekin made three from behind the arc. Wilbekin's last one came during an 11-0 run that turned a tight game into a double-digit lead.
Florida led 42-24 at halftime, but UCF got back into the game with a strong start to open the second half.
The Knights used an 11-0 run, highlighted by consecutive 3s from Wilson and Spurlock, to get it back to single digits.
But Donovan called a timeout and settled his team down. Florida pulled away from there - thanks partly to the Wilbekin-Rosario switch.