<
>

Gators rebounding by committee

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- So far, Billy Donovan's biggest concern about the Florida basketball team hasn't become a problem.

With the exception of Patric Young, the Gators are pretty thin in the frontcourt, and Donovan was worried whether his team would be able to hold its own when it came to getting rebounds. With the guards needing to play a significant role, would the rebounding-by-committee approach work in 2011-12?

So far, it has.

Florida (5-1) is tied for sixth in the nation in rebounding margin (plus-11.4 per game), and the Gators have out-rebounded every team they've played this season, including Ohio State and Jared Sullinger. They'll have another tough test on Friday when they play at third-ranked Syracuse, which has a frontcourt led by 7-foot center Fab Melo.

"We've gotten better in that area," Donovan said. "I didn't think we did a great job against Stetson [on Monday]. I thought they came up with a lot of loose balls and did a great job physically coming down with a lot of difficult rebounds.

"But we've done a pretty good job. They've made an effort to do it."

The 6-foot-9 Young is UF's leading rebounder at 7.7 per game, but the Gators have three other players averaging at least 4.0 rebounds per game. One is 6-9 forward Erik Murphy, who won't play against Syracuse because of a bone bruise in his right knee, but the others are guards: 6-3 Bradley Beal and 5-8 Erving Walker.

Walker had been averaging 5.3 rebounds per game in UF's first four games but has grabbed only five in the last two games combined.

"Erv's gotten a lot of rebounds. Brad's got two double-doubles so far this season," guard Kenny Boyton said. "If we keep that going we'll have great rebounding numbers."

Beal has as many double-doubles as Young does, but Young has done a lot of damage on the offensive glass (15 rebounds). Perhaps the most pleasant surprise has been the play of 6-7 forward Will Yeguete. He was forced into a starting role the past two games because of Murphy's knee injury, and he responded with 20 rebounds in the two games.

That pushed his season average from 4.7 to 6.8, and he has been equally effective on the offensive glass (11) and on the defensive glass (9) in the past two games. He had his first career double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) in the Gators' 96-70 victory over Stetson.

"I really felt like watching him play [in high school], he really did a lot of little things," Donovan said. "He was physical. He stepped in and took charges. I thought he had good athleticism off the floor. He could rebound in traffic. He could do a lot of different things.

"He really understands defense. He understands the positioning. He can really keep balls alive. He's a hard guy to block out."

It'll be an interesting matchup for Florida against Syracuse (7-0) because the Orange's frontcourt of starters Melo, 6-9 Rakeem Christmas and 6-7 Kris Joseph and 6-8 reserve C.J. Fair are combining to average 20.7 rebounds per game.

With Murphy out, the Gators have gone to a four-guard lineup for extended minutes, with 6-3 guard Mike Rosario on the floor in place of Yeguete. That will make things even tougher for the Gators on Friday night.

"This will be the first time that we've faced a team with this kind of length, being a little bit limited size-wise across our front line [without Murphy]," Donovan said. "And now the challenge even becomes greater if we do have three or four guards out there. Can we realistically rebound the ball? That's going to be a big test for us."

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