NCAA BK

Guards Boynton, Walker key for No. 2 seed Florida

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)

Florida guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker share scooter rides across campus, stay after practice to shoot and hang out socially.

They're roommates, teammates and backcourt mates.

They have something else in common: When the undersized duo struggles, so do the 15th-ranked Gators (26-7). Boynton and Walker have shown all season how important guard play is for coach Billy Donovan's team, especially in the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Florida expects the same in the NCAA tournament.

''Me and Kenny, we're both confident players and we feel like at some point in the game the shots will go in,'' Walker said Monday.

If not, Florida usually finds itself in trouble.

Kentucky pretty much shut down the 6-foot-1 Boynton and the 5-foot-7 Walker in the SEC tournament final, holding Boynton to 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting and keeping Walker under double digits for the second time in three meetings.

The Wildcats did it with relatively tall, athletic guards who can play press coverage, disrupt passing lanes and affect shots.

The Gators, the No. 2 seed in the Southeast region, could face similar problems in the NCAA bracket - although it's unlikely to come against 15th-seeded UC-Santa Barbara in the opening round Thursday in Tampa. The Gauchos (18-13), who won the Big West tournament and earned an automatic berth in the NCAA field, have two 6-foot guards in the starting lineup alongside top scorers Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally.

''I'm always the smallest player on the court,'' Walker said. ''For somebody to be taller than me is not really a big deal to me. It's nothing I'm afraid of at this point in my life.''

The junior from Brooklyn, N.Y., leads Florida in scoring, averaging 14.4 points a game, and has a knack for hitting deep 3-pointers. He also has a team-high 37 steals.

But his tendency to drive into the lane with little or no idea what he plans to do with the ball has concerned Donovan all season. Walker has a team-worst 80 turnovers.

''We've got Walker outside with weights on his ankles hanging from the monkey bars right now to see if we can stretch him a little bit,'' Donovan joked. ''He's not going to grow. He is what he is. He can still impact the game, but he's got to understand how.''

Boynton, a sophomore from Pompano Beach, has been the team's best scorer in the second half of the season. He's averaging 14.1 points a game and leads the Gators with 72 3-pointers. Even with the off day against Kentucky, Boynton averaged 18.7 points in the SEC tournament.

''I want to say it's confidence,'' said Boynton, who's also the team's best free-throw shooter and defender. ''Confidence level. In practice, I've been shooting after, me and Erving. I think I'm taking good shots, not forcing anything. And I think that when I get in the rhythm, they just fall.''

The Gators are 17-4 this season when the duo combines for at least 25 points. Maybe more telling, the Gators are 19-2 when Boynton and Walker combine for six or more assists.

''I have a lot of confidence in those guys,'' Donovan said. ''The worst guys to play with are guys that love to shoot the ball and love to score, which every player does, and they don't give it to your team on the defensive end of the floor. That's really a hard pill for your team and the other guys to swallow.

''I always tell guys with freedom comes responsibility. I'll give you all the freedom you want, but you've got to be responsible in some other areas that you and I both know you can control.''

Donovan believes defensive effort is the key to Florida's success. No surprise, then, that many of the teams that beat Florida this season - Ohio State, Jacksonville, Central Florida, Mississippi State and Kentucky - have relatively tall backcourts.

The Gators, especially Boynton and Walker, are well aware of their flaws. But they don't anticipate any changes, not at this time of year.

''Every team is different and I don't think we should change up what we've been doing just because it's the NCAA tournament,'' Walker said. ''We should continue to play with what got us here.''

Tagged: UC-Santa Barbara, Florida, Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton

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