GAINESVILLE — Since news broke last week that freshman forward Chris Walker had finally been declared eligible by the NCAA beginning with Tuesday night's game against Missouri, Florida coach Billy Donovan and players spent an inordinate amount of time reminding anyone who'd listen that Walker was no savior and Missouri would be no pushover.
It turns out both were true.
Guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson kept Missouri in the game for about 30 minutes, but ultimately it wasn't enough.
Trailing 45-43, Florida put together a 16-3 run over six minutes — aided by three 3-pointers from sophomore guard Michael Frazier — to battle its way to a 68-58 win in front of 12,123 at the O'Connell Center.
The No. 3 Gators (20-2, 9-0 SEC) have won 28 straight home games and have had 16 straight 20-win seasons under Donovan.
"This was really, really a hard game for us because it was a struggle the whole way through," Donovan said. "Nothing came easy for us. Even when we played great defense, they made shots. … It was good to see our guys go through that struggle and find a way to win."
Walker's debut produced two spectacular made-for-TV dunks (both on alley-oop assists from former AAU teammate Kasey Hill), but the freshman's impact was limited. He had four points, two rebounds and two blocks in seven minutes.
"It feels good to finally be a part of the team," Walker said. "I just wanted to do what I could to help."
Meanwhile, Donovan's concern about the Tigers' hot-scoring guards was valid. Brown, the SEC's leading scorer, and Jordan Clarkson combined for 29 points on 10-of-27 shooting.
"I think we did an okay job on them," said senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, who had a career-high 19 points. "We could have done better. We let them get loose. If you let up, they are going to get loose, that's how good they are."
Meanwhile, Frazier (14 points) got hot at just the right time. Before hitting his three consecutive 3-pointers, he was 1-of-8 from beyond the arc.
Florida trailed 28-25 at halftime, the first time the Gators had trailed at the half since a Dec. 2 loss to UConn. They held Missouri to 36 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range in the second half.
"We moved the ball around a lot better, we were getting up and down and playing a lot better defense and that helped us as a whole," UF senior center Patric Young said.
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]