Sunday, June 24, 2018
Sports

Depth a key for Gators in SEC tournament

When March rolled in last year, it was no different from any other month for Florida forward Dorian Finney-Smith.

He was in the first year of his transfer from Virginia Tech and had to sit out the season per NCAA rules. He practiced, but as the Gators made their run to a third consecutive Elite Eight, Finney-Smith was watching on TV. So you can imagine what the newly crowned SEC sixth man of the year feels like today.

"It's a great feeling," said Finney-Smith who averages 9.4 points and 6.9 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. "I have never made it to the tournament. At Virginia Tech, our season was over after the ACC tournament. So right now, I'm just standing in the moment."

When No. 1 Florida begins SEC tournament play against eighth-seeded Missouri this afternoon, the Gators' top reserves — Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, DeVon Walker and Chris Walker — will be a critical part of their NCAA title hopes.

At one point limited to six players, Florida is now nine-deep and healthy entering the most important part of the season.

"Certainly us having depth is a good thing," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We've had to battle through this year not having a full complement of players. Getting Kasey Hill back, I think it's good for Scottie (Wilbekin) to rest him. We can play all those guys together and play Scottie off the ball. … Hopefully Chris will be able to continue to progress and get better. It allows us to press, we have more depth in the backcourt, it helps you get out of foul trouble a little better. All of those things I think are very important and help your team when you have more numbers and bodies."

To understand why the late-season emergence of the Gators' bench is important, look at its history. In 2000, the Gators brought five players off the bench during the NCAA Tournament in which it advanced to the title game: Donnell Harvey, Brett Nelson, Matt Bonner, Kenyan Weaks and Major Parker. In defeating top-ranked Duke to advance to the Final Four, the Gators' depth compared to the Blue Devils — who had four players with more than 30 minutes — was a key to the game.

In 2006 bench players Walter Hodge, Chris Richard and Adrian Moss proved critical in the Gators' title run. And in 2007 it was Hodge, Richards and St. Petersburg's Marreese Speights.

The backups have proven of late to be more than just bodies. In Saturday's win over Kentucky, Hill had eight points and seven assists in 21 minutes. The bench had 20 first-half points.

"He's gotten more comfortable, more confident. He's been able to see plays better, see plays develop," Wilbekin said of Hill. "And he's gotten better on defense."

After a midseason slump in which he was 1-for-23on 3-point ers, Finney-Smith is 10-for-20 in the past four games. When playing that way alongside sophomore 3-point specialist Michael Frazier, and with long-range ability from DeVon Walker, it provides a stronger offensive dimension.

Although he has only played the final 10 games of the season, Chris Walker slowly is emerging, and the Gators need his ability to block shots and relieve center Patric Young without losing a big-man presence inside.

For Finney-Smith, the bench role is new, but he has adapted quickly. And the Gators are better because of it.

"When I came here I just wanted to do anything to help my team win," he said. "That was the whole reason for me to come here, was to win."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Rays team up to beat Yankees again 4-0

Rays team up to beat Yankees again 4-0

ST. PETERSBURG — With all that's been said, tweeted, ranted and written on these pages and elsewhere about the Rays' odd, unorthodox, weird and some days downright wacky pitching plan, this might be the craziest thing yet:It's working.Like, rea...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Greg Auman answers your questions about NFL’s investigation into Jameis Winston

Greg Auman answers your questions about NFL’s investigation into Jameis Winston

There are many unanswered questions and discrepancies about the story of Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and the March 2016 Uber ride in Arizona that has led to his upcoming three-game suspension for violating the NFL's conduct policy.The Bucs won't ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Will this be Jameis Winston’s last season in a Bucs uniform?

Will this be Jameis Winston’s last season in a Bucs uniform?

A t his introductory news conference after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Bucs in 2015, Jameis Winston said to judge him on his actions moving forward."Actions speak so much louder than words, or what they may have read or what they may have hear...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Rays Tales: Why ‘trades’ and ‘prospects’ are always in same conversation

Rays Tales: Why ‘trades’ and ‘prospects’ are always in same conversation

Besides the continual evolution of their intriguing pitching plan, the primary topics of conversation for the Rays over the next several weeks will be trades and prospects. And not mutually exclusively.Some sooner than others, the Rays are going to c...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Former Mitchell High player Nathan Smith taken in NHL draft by Jets

Former Mitchell High player Nathan Smith taken in NHL draft by Jets

It's rare to see an NHL draft pick with Tampa Bay ties, but the Jets used a third-round pick Saturday on center Nathan Smith, 19, who played for Mitchell High School in Trinity and most recently for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL.Smith was ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Report: Lightning to talk to John Tavares during free-agent courting period

Report: Lightning to talk to John Tavares during free-agent courting period

Despite limited salary-cap room, the Lightning is among at least five teams expected to talk with Islanders All-Star center John Tavares, who can be a free agent July 1, when the courting period begins Sunday, ESPN reported.Tavares also is expected t...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Rays journal: New confidence carries over for Willy Adames

Rays journal: New confidence carries over for Willy Adames

ST. PETERSBURG — The key to SS Willy Adames rapping two of the biggest hits in the Rays' 4-0 win Saturday actually took place the night before.An RBI single that snapped an 0-for-12 and a second hit two winnings later in Friday's game restored ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Another small, quick forward headlines Lightning’s draft picks

Another small, quick forward headlines Lightning’s draft picks

Even without a first-round pick, the Lightning wrapped up its draft with seven picks Saturday, starting with Gabriel Fortier, an undersized 18-year-old forward from Quebec in the second round."They were guys that we really wanted," Lightning director...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Saturday’s Rays-Yankees game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Saturday’s Rays-Yankees game

INF Daniel Robertson has only played two games after a short DL stint, but it seems like he has already made a half dozen great plays. Willy Adames and Jake Bauers get the attention, but Robertson has the skills to steal the show any night.It is obvi...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Tampa Bay Tech wins Battle of the Bay 7-on-7 tournament

Tampa Bay Tech wins Battle of the Bay 7-on-7 tournament

TAMPA — Tampa Bay Tech lost some significant players from an offense that averaged more than 40 points per game last season.The biggest departures were in the passing game. Mike Penix, the Tampa Bay Times' all-Tampa Bay offensive player of the ...
Updated: 11 hours ago