Scottie Wilbekin emerging as elite defender
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Scottie Wilbekin is one of Billy Donovan's best defenders.
Now and ever.
Florida's junior point guard showed his defensive prowess last week by shutting down Texas A&M's Elston Turner and Missouri's Phil Pressey in lopsided victories that extended the team's winning streak to six games.
Turner, coming off a 40-point game at Kentucky, managed four points on 1-of-10 shooting. Pressey, one of them more dynamic point guards in the country, finished with two points on 1-of-7 shooting and had a career-high 10 turnovers.
Wilbekin wreaked havoc on both of them.
"It's unbelievable," teammate Erik Murphy said Monday. "The guy just comes out and guards. I don't think I've ever played with a guy who can guard on the ball like that on any level -- high school, AAU or college."
The eighth-ranked Gators (14-2, 4-0 Southeastern Conference), who play at Georgia on Wednesday night, lead the league in just about every defensive category. And Wilbekin has been the key to the whole thing.
"He's always hung his hat on being a great defender," Donovan said. "That's always been important to him. Our defense has gotten better and he's got a lot to do with that. As a point guard, it's probably somewhat changed our team's mentality a little bit going out there and defending the way we have.
"And it certainly starts with your point guard because he's picking the ball up from the press, he's out there at the top and he can set the stage. ... I don't need to motivate him to play defense. It's important to him."
Donovan had high praise for Wilbekin on Monday, putting him in the same defensive class as former players Justin Hamilton (1999-2003) and Corey Brewer (2004-07).
Wilbekin spent the last two years playing behind Erving Walker, getting a few minutes here and there while showing glimpses of potential.
Walker left Florida ranked fourth on the program's all-time scoring list (1,777) and first in assists (547). No doubt, he was one of the more consistent players in Donovan's 17 seasons in Gainesville.
But the Gators might be better with Wilbekin running the show.
They certainly are better defensively.
Wilbekin is averaging 8.3 points, 4.9 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals. He's never going to touch Walker's career marks, but consider this: Walker had one 10-assist game in four years, including three as a starter. Wilbekin has posted two double-digit-assist games this month.
"He's been good in terms of getting in the lane and making good decisions," Donovan said. "His offense continues to grow. He takes good shots. He takes open ones. He's a good finisher at the basket, and when he gets down the lane it kind of opens things up for us.
"A lot of times, when Erving would get down the lane, he would bet swallowed up. He would leave his feet sometimes, would drive me nuts, whereas I think Scottie can get down the lane and he can finish at the rim a little bit better."
Still, Wilbekin's defense is getting most of the attention.
The 6-foot-2 Wilbekin doesn't have the height or reach of Hamilton or Brewer. But his quick feet, fast hands, gritty style and instincts make him a tough defender.
And he's contagious.
Center Pat Young, guard Mike Rosario and others feed off Wilbekin's defensive intensity. And guard Kenny Boynton, who has been the team's top defender in recent years, seems to be benefiting most from Wilbekin's play. With Wilbekin taking on the toughest defensive assignment, Boynton is able to rest more than usual on that end.
"He's impressive," Boynton said. "He's taken over that role, and it says a lot about how much he's matured in a year."
Wilbekin was suspended to start the season, missing the first three games for an undisclosed violation of team rules. But he's rebounded as well as Donovan expected and really settled into his role as a defensive stopper.
And with Wilbekin leading the way, Florida hasn't allowed any opponent to reach 70 points this season. And in four SEC games, the Gators are giving up just 48.7 points.
"Scottie's playing amazing right now," Young said. "In my book, he's the best point guard I've ever played with."