Commentary

Rebounding will be key for Gators

Sharp-shooting Gators will need to crash the boards to contend for a title

Originally Published: November 15, 2011
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Billy Donovan might have one of the best shooting teams he's ever had at Florida.

He's more worried, though, about the Gators being one of his worst rebounding teams.

The addition of touted freshman Bradley Beal and junior transfer Mike Rosario to a backcourt that already included Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker gives Florida four legitimate 3-point shooters. But other than sophomore center Patric Young, the Gators are pretty thin in the front court.

Rebounding not only will be a challenge, it might be the thing that keeps the Gators from becoming a legitimate national championship contender.

"Our team the last two years went through the streakiness of our shooting," Donovan said. "Sometimes we shot it really, really well. Sometimes we didn't shoot it well. But I felt like that last two years we always gave ourselves a chance, because we were able to rebound the ball.

"When you have a good shooting team, that part of it can get lost."

[+] EnlargeErik Murphy
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesSix-foot-10 forward Erik Murphy has been better known for his outside game than his inside game, but that might have to change.
So even after the Gators made 20 3-pointers in an exhibition victory over Catholic University and 14 in the season-opening victory over Jackson State, Donovan is making sure the players focus on what they need to do when the shot doesn't fall.

The 6-foot-9, 247-pound Young, who averaged 3.8 rebounds and 3.4 points per game last season off the bench, clearly is going to handle the bulk of that task. However, he doesn't have much help in the front court. Forward Erik Murphy is 6-10, but he's a better outside shooter than he is a rebounder. Cody Larson is a 6-9, 231-pound forward, but he redshirted last season and won't have much of a role this season.

That means the backcourt and smaller forwards Casey Prather and Will Yeguete have to rebound by committee.

"I think clearly Brad is the best rebounder from that position of all our guys," Donovan said. "He's got to do a better job getting in there, because he's capable, and I think it's probably a little bit new for him in terms of what we're asking him to do. But we need him. But it's not even only him. We need Erving to go grab four or five rebounds; we need Kenny to go grab four or five rebounds, Rosario four or five, Beal five to seven. If we can do that [we can] collectively be a good rebounding team."

It definitely is a new role for Beal, who was a prolific scorer at Chaminade Prep in St. Louis. He averaged 32.5 points per game as a senior and was ranked ESPNU's No. 2 overall shooting guard and No. 5 overall prospect. He's still adjusting.

"I definitely have to do a better job of rebounding," said Beal, who had just two rebounds in UF's 99-59 victory over Jackson State. "Coach Donovan has been on my head ever since our scrimmage game. He's just been on me about rebounding. I have to take the initiative and actually start going in there and battling a little bit with the bigger guys."

One of UF's better rebounders from the backcourt is actually the 5-8 Walker, who had just 30 fewer rebounds than Young last season. He has been on the guards about rebounding better this season, too.

"We do so many good things good offensive and we actually defend well, too, so if we just give up the rebound, that kind of defeats the purpose," Walker said. "We've got to help out with that."

Especially against a team like third-ranked Ohio State (1-0) and a player like Jared Sullinger, the Buckeyes' 6-9, 280-pound forward. The 10th-ranked Gators (1-0) will play the Buckeyes on Tuesday in Columbus.

Not getting dominated on the glass limits second-chance points, but it also is important for the Gators offensively, too. It's hard to get out on the break if you're giving up offensive rebounds -- and the Gators want to run as much as possible.

"There's been times three or four years ago when we needed to rebound the ball to kind of stop the bleeding, so to speak," Donovan said. "We need to rebound the ball because we're so explosive offensively, and it's so hard when we're coming down the floor to match up with us.

"It takes away a huge strength of our team if we get annihilated on the backboard. We've got to get better there."

Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at espndirocco@gmail.com or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.

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