Gators top Mizzou in Walker's debut

Tigers fall to Florida 68-58 on road

By The Sports Xchange
POSTED: 10:54 PM MST Feb 04, 2014    UPDATED: 11:37 PM MST Feb 04, 2014 
basketball on court
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -

A defensive effort over a key six-minute stretch in the second half allowed No. 3 Florida to remain undefeated in Southeastern Conference play.

With Florida forward Chris Walker making his collegiate debut, the Gators emerged with a 68-58 win over Missouri on Tuesday.

Guard Scottie Wilbekin led the Gators (20-2, 9-0 SEC) with a career-high 19 points, while guard Michael Frazier II added 14. Florida reached 20 wins for the 16th consecutive year, and it extended its home winning record to 28 straight.

Walker, considered one of the nation's elite recruits, finished with four points on two first-half dunks after finally getting clearance from the NCAA.

"I really didn't know what to expect," Gators coach Billy Donovan said. "He's a kid who has missed so much, hasn't been able to go through the normal progression as freshmen do."

Florida trailed midway through the second half, but its defense slowed the Tigers at the end. Missouri guard Jabari Brown, the SEC's top scorer, had just 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Guard Jordan Clarkson added 14 points for the Tigers (16-6, 4-5).

Center Patric Young, who had 13 points, hit a short hook to put the Gators up 37-35 with 14:55 to play in the game. That was the Gators' first lead since they held a 12-11 advantage midway through the opening half.

Florida forward Will Yeguete followed Young's basket with two foul shots, and the Gators held a four-point edge. However, Brown quickly made that margin evaporate with two 3-point baskets.

A Clarkson basket gave Missouri a 45-43 lead with 9:58 left, but Florida took command after that.

"They were very aggressive," Tigers coach Frank Haith said. "I think they were really aggressive on Jordan and really were physical with him. I thought they did a good job being physical with him and Jabari, but they were pretty physical the whole game."

Frazier hit a big 3-pointer to put Florida up 48-45. A second Frazier 3-pointer gave Florida its largest lead to that point, 51-45, with less than eight minutes to play.

Frazier made it three straight after a Tigers 3-pointer by guard Wes Clark.

Guard Kasey Hill hit two free throws to increase the lead to eight points, and Young made a bucket in the lane to give Florida a 58-48 lead with 4:06 remaining.

Wilbekin hit four clutch free throws down the stretch to keep the Tigers from making it a closer game. He sank 13 of 16 foul shots in the contest.

"I wanted to get to the free-throw line, and I was able to make them," Wilbekin said. "Any time you can get free points like that is good."

Missouri quieted the sellout crowd with several short runs early in the game. The Tigers led 11-8 after a 3-point basket by Clark. Wilbekin hit a 3-pointer to put the Gators back on top, but Missouri scored five straight.

The Gators tied it at 16 on a Frazier bucket off a rebound of his own miss. The Tigers build the lead back to 23-18. Walker tied the score at 23 and 25 on highlight-reel dunks off lobs that brought roars from the crowd, but Brown hit a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to put the Tigers up 28-25 at the break.

Florida had a miserable first half shooting the ball, making just one of 11 attempts behind the arc. Aside from Walker's two dunks, the Gators had just seven field goals.

"I thought our defense was good," Haith said. "I was really encouraged by how our guys played tonight against the No. 3 team in the country."

The Gators wound up shooting 44.2 percent for the game while holding the Tigers to 39.6 percent shooting.

NOTES: Florida F Chris Walker enrolled in school in December and became eligible Tuesday for the first time. The 6-foot-10 McDonald's All-American, one of the main reasons 19 NBA scouts attended the contest, was greeted to a standing ovation when he came out for pregame warmups an hour before the game. The crowd roared in anticipation of him coming into the contest for the first time near the midpoint of the first half. ... Mizzou's first five losses this season were by a combined 21 points. ... Florida trailed Tuesday for the first time since its last loss, Dec. 2 at Connecticut.