Florida St.-Florida Preview
Coach Billy Donovan has made no secret that he believes Florida is a better team with Scottie Wilbekin on the floor, and the senior point guard helped prove that in his first game back from suspension.
Wilbekin's return couldn't have come at a better time for a Gators squad hampered by injuries.
It's unclear if starting guard DeVon Walker will be healthy enough to play Friday night as No. 15 Florida seeks its fifth straight victory over rival Florida State, which is struggling to find consistency.
Wilbekin sat out the first five games due to an unspecified violation of team rules, returning Monday to score 12 points while adding seven assists and five rebounds in an 86-60 victory over Jacksonville.
"It never felt like he and I were on any different page," Donovan said. "He's been in practice everyday. He knows what I expect, what I want. He can get us in and out of offense."
Wilbekin was happy to be back, too, after his second suspension in less than a year. He admitted to being nervous, but he quickly settled in to his usual role for Florida (5-1), which was paced by Casey Prather's 27 points.
''I'm just glad to put that stuff behind me,'' Wilbekin said. ''It was great to be out there playing, back with my teammates. I'm just looking forward to moving past the suspension. I'm not looking back. I think I've really matured a lot as a person and I've grown. And in some ways, this suspension was probably the best thing that could ever happen to me. 'I really think I've progressed a lot as a person.''
His return came just in time, as Kasey Hill - who started in Wilbekin's absence - will be out at least one month due to a high ankle sprain.
Walker suffered a mid-foot sprain Monday and is considered day to day for the Gators, who also are without Damontre Harris (indefinite suspension), Eli Carter (broken leg) and Will Yeguete (recovering from knee surgery).
Wilbekin's return helps ease those problems a bit, though.
"It just felt comfortable with him out there," center Patric Young said. "He has that experience. I know I can completely trust he's going to get us into what we need to get into and we're going to get a good shot every time."
Wilbekin played an all-around solid game last season against Florida State, finishing with five points, five assists and five steals in a 72-47 win Dec. 5. This contest may turn into another rout if the Seminoles can't get back on track after an up-and-down showing at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Florida State (5-1) dominated then-No. 10 VCU 85-67 in the first round, but it blew a 16-point, second-half lead to then-No. 14 Michigan in an 82-80 overtime loss last Friday.
It then needed a Devon Bookert buzzer beater to defeat Northeastern 62-60 in the consolation bracket Sunday. Leading scorer Ian Miller went 2 of 10 from the field and finished with six points.
"I've said all along, I think we're a work in progress," coach Leonard Hamilton said. "I think we've got potential that we could be a pretty good basketball team, but we have not been as consistent as we need to."
The Seminoles' last beat the Gators 57-55 on Dec. 7, 2008.