Florida 79, UCF 66: Happy returns for Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather

Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

Two of Florida's unsung juniors made big contributions in Friday's win.

Florida's 79-66 win over UCF on Friday showed a new way to win for these Gators. And with Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather both contributing at both ends, it showed the Gators have more potential heroes than we think.

Florida's No. 7 ranking has been earned thanks to proficient offenses in 2010-11 and 2011-12 positioning the Gators in the top 10 at season's outset and great defense so far in the 2012-13 season. That offense is mostly the responsibility of Kenny Boynton (24 points and eight rebounds vs. UCF, both season highs), Erik Murphy (nine points, 1-for-6 from deep), and Mike Rosario (four points, 2-for-9 shooting), or it should be. Defense is the domain of Patric Young, Wilbekin, and Prather, or so we thought.

This game kind of flipped that conventional wisdom around.

Boynton led all scorers and was the hottest hand on the day, but Wilbekin matched his 4-for-9 mark from beyond the arc en route to 17 points, his new career high. Prather had eight points on just three shots, making all three and sinking his two free throws, but his offense is far more remarkable than his typically solid defense because it's new and could be incredibly valuable.

Wilbekin and Prather are players who Billy Donovan would love to throw on the floor to press and disrupt opponents, because both are very good individual defenders with length and speed. But playing them has long been sacrificing offense for defense, because Prather lacked the handles to create for himself and Wilbekin was unsteady as a shooter. On this day, they weren't, not at all, and were better options for Donovan than Rosario, whose shooting is cold and whose turnovers still get Donovan hot.

Florida did plenty of things wrong on the day, too, like allowing UCF to shoot 55 percent from three, giving up 5-0 and 11-0 runs to start the first and second halves, respectively, and taking 33 threes. But Wilbekin and Prather factored into the three-point shooting far more than the latter two things, and also combined for seven offensive rebounds; Prather's eight points tied a career high for a regular season game and came in arguably his best regular season outing, while Wilbekin's line (he added a career-high eight assists, five rebounds, and three steals to his point total) made it inarguably his finest day for Florida.

And if those two returnees -- Prather was playing his first game of 2012 after concussions, Wilbekin his third after a suspension -- can maintain that level of play, the Gators may get many happy returns from them.

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