No. 15 Florida handles Jacksonville 86-60
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)
Returning from a six-game suspension to start the season, Wilbekin had 12 points, seven assists, five rebounds and just two turnovers as the Gators handled Jacksonville 86-60 Monday night.
He was instrumental in getting Florida's offense in rhythm early and appeared to be in midseason form on the other end, finishing with a team-high three steals.
''He opened up a lot of things for our team,'' Gators coach Billy Donovan said.
Wilbekin spoke for the first time since before his suspension, which was his second in less than a year, and apologized to fans for his ''actions over the summer.'' He was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
''I'm just glad to put that stuff behind me,'' he 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 because I've learned a lot over the summer.
''I really think I've progressed a lot as a person.''
Donovan didn't wait to get Wilbekin on the floor. He put him in the starting lineup, giving Florida (5-1) four seniors starting alongside sophomore Devon Walker.
With Wilbekin leading the way, the Gators opened up a 16-5 lead early thanks to Michael Frazier II's two 3-pointers. Florida made it 28-10 on Jacob Kurtz's layup at the midway point of the half. Wilbekin's driving layup with 6:05 remaining in the half was his first bucket of the season. His runner in the lane just before the buzzer put Florida ahead 48-29 at the break.
''He did a great job of finding me,'' Frazier said. ''I was just fortunate to knock down open shots.''
Frazier was 5-of-6 shooting, all from behind the arc, and finished with 17 points. Casey Prather led Florida in scoring for third time in six games, finishing with 27 on 11-of-13 shooting.
Dorian Finney-Smith added 14 points and 11 rebounds for the visitors. Patric Young chipped in 13 points.
But all eyes were on Wilbekin.
''I suspect he's going to get a lot better,'' Prather said. ''He's just finding how to play with us again.''
The Gators have won four in a row since losing at 10th-ranked Wisconsin two weeks ago. The latest victory was a final tuneup before the team's toughest stretch of the season - games against Florida State, Connecticut, Kansas and Memphis.
Having Wilbekin back certainly should help.
''Even though Scottie didn't play the last five or six games, it never felt like he and I were on any different page,'' Donovan said. ''He knew everything that was going on. He was in practice every single day. The only thing was it wasn't translating on the court in games. He knows what I expect, what I want. He can get us in and out of offense quite a bit.''
Jarvis Haywood led the Dolphins (2-4) with 16 points. Vince Martin added 11 points and 10 boards.
''We need to execute better,'' Jacksonville coach Cliff Warren said. ''Our guys are distraught. They know they didn't give their best effort for 40 minutes.''
The Gators started the second half much like they did the first, using a 10-4 spurt to turn a double-digit lead into a lopsided affair.
Wilbekin made his first two buckets of the second half, hitting a runner and a 3-pointer.
Florida coasted from there. The Gators shot 59.6 percent from the floor and were 8-of-13 from 3-point range.
They missed 12 free throws and gave up 16 offensive rebounds. But made up for those miscues with 19 assists, seven steals and four blocked shots.
About the only thing to really go wrong for Donovan's team was another injury. Walker hurt his right foot early in the game and did not return. Donovan said he would get X-rays to determine the extent of the injury.
The Gators already are playing without point guard Kasey Hill, who is sideline at least a month because of a high-ankle sprain. Center Damonte Harris also is out, still suspended indefinitely. Guard Eli Carter (broken leg) and forward Will Yeguete (knee surgery) are recovering from injuries.