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Florida 98, Arkansas 68: The Importance Of Erving Walker's Zone

With the shot clock running down, Cody Larson threw up a lame imitation of a shot in the dying throes of Florida's 98-68 win over Arkansas on Saturday night, and all I could do was laugh. Yeah, sure, Larson's struggle to find any sort of rhythm for Florida is dark comedy at this point, but it's also a massive relief for me that the Gators were in a position to have Larson doing Cody Larson things in the final minute of a road game, especially after where they sat last Saturday at this time. (And Patric Young laughed, too.)

Then, Florida had just been blasted by Kentucky and taken to the woodshed by Tennessee for the second time this season, and had just lost Will Yeguete to a concussion. Now, after two impressive triumphs on the road against two of the best teams in what used to be the SEC West, it's fair to wonder if Florida just needed a bad week to wake up and restoke its flames. And with Erving Walker getting hot, it might have been the best thing possible for the Gators heading into their stretch run.

Walker had 31 points, a career high, making five of his six threes and nine of his 12 shots. And he added five assists without committing any turnovers, making his only real mistake of the game when he tried to pass around Devonta Abron and touched off a glare-off that got both players whistled for technical fouls.

That's the best Walker, the one that makes plays without forcing things, and produces and takes open threes rather than driving to the basket for impossibly difficult lay-ups over taller players. He's never going to be a pure point guard, because there's too much Brooklyn in him, too much impetuousness and courage to settle into the groove of finding the best play every trip. But he won't hurt Florida if he can find that zone, the one he resided in today, more often that not.

In that zone, Walker can force defenses to respect him and stretch, giving Kenny Boynton (25 points of incredibly low volume) and Bradley Beal (21 points, nine rebounds) the room to do their own damage; in that zone, Walker finds Young for alley-oops and easy dunks when driving to the basket. In that zone, Walker could be the pilot of a Final Four team, because Florida still has enough firepower and defensive tenacity — especially when Yeguete and Beal are flying around, snatching rebounds (Yeguete had 11) and blocking shots (Beal had three) — to stay in and win games if only it can get point guard play commensurate with its roster's talent.

Erving Walker found that zone tonight. If he can stay there, Florida can be as good as any team in the nation.

Let's hope he doesn't get out of it until the Gators are cutting down nets in April.