UK Basketball: Florida backcourt will provide tough test for Wildcats on Saturday
Florida guard Kenny Boynton (1) is averaging 13 points points per game, and teams with Erving Walker (14.5 ppg) to form a dynamic backcourt for the Gators. The are combinging for 27.5 points, 5.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. The Gators host Kentucky on Saturday night. (AP Photo)
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings was impressed with the play of Florida guards Kenny Boynton and Ervin Walker. They combined for 27 points, 5.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game.
“Florida has probably been the most impressive team in the league, at least in league play,” Stallings said. “They have really great players and a great system of play.
“I think those guys (Walker and Boynton) are very experienced even though Boynton is only a sophomore. He played all the time last year. They are very experienced, very poised. They are very clear cut on what they are trying to accomplish.
“Florida’s system is perfect for them and they execute well. Both can hurt you with the outside shot and drive. Both are excellent passers. They are both good defenders. They apply pressure on you in every way and that’s what makes them good.”
Florida coach Billy Donovan says the play of freshman guard Scottie Wilbekin has helped his starters, too, because last year the Gators had no reliable backups for either player. This season the freshman is averaging 17 minutes per game while Walker and Boynton both average 32.
“He has come in and done a nice job. He’s solid, a good defender and has enabled us to rest them,” Donovan said.
But the Florida coach says both guards are also better than they were last year.
“They are shooting better, decision-making is better,” Donovan said. “They are good workers and want to get better. They can both shoot and score, but they are also better at playing at a good pace. There have been games they have struggled to shoot and games they have shot it very well. But the one thing I get that they give good effort every time.”
Florida returned five starters off last year’s NCAA Tournament team and was picked to win the Southeastern Conference. The Gators lead the league at 6-2 and are 17-5 overall.
“We’re getting a little respect this year, but at the same time we want more and we still have to go on the court and keep performing,” Florida center Chandler Parsons, who averages 10.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, said. “We want to be the best possible team that we can be and see where that takes us.”
Florida certainly has its deepest team in years. Donovan has 11 scholarship players available. The Gators have eight players averaging 17 or more minutes per game and two more playing over seven minutes per game compared to UK’s basic six-player rotation.
Junior backup center Eloy Vargas knows plenty about the Gators, especially Boynton. He spent a year at Florida before transferring to a junior college and then coming to UK.
“It’s just another game for me, not really a big deal,” Vargas said. “Kenny is my teammate from high school and AAU. We played four years and still talk some. He’s really, really good.”
Vargas expects the Florida students to have some verbal taunts for him.
“They will probably have something for me, but I will enjoy it. I will not let it upset me,” Vargas said.
Vargas sees no reason No. 10 Kentucky cannot win.
“If we play together, it will not be that hard to win,” he said. “It would say a lot for us to go and beat them. They are a pretty good team with good players. It will be tough to win, but if we play together we have the better team.”
He’s not sure how much he might get to play, but he thinks his play is improving.
“Right now, I am more comfortable,” Vargas said. “I am more light on my feet and getting to where I need to be. I was struggling getting things done, but I know I am getting better.”
Donovan knows one player the Gators must watch — Knight. The Florida native was heavily recruited by the Gators before signing with UK.
“The one thing I admired and respected about him was that he was a very, very focused kid. Very focused on school and very focused on basketball,” Donovan said. “The best thing to illustrate the kind of kid he is that when I went down one day to watch him work out, he studied on his own from 3-6 (p.m.) and then changed and worked out about from 6 to 7:30 or 8 and then went in the weight room and lifted until 9. The coach told me he did that every single day.
“The thing I admired was his work ethic, focus and a strong desire to be the best he can be. Where that ranks him as a point guard nationally, I don’t know. But he wants to take his God-given ability and be the best he can be and he is very focused on that.”