Saturday, February 4, 2012
Yeguete triggers the press
By Michael DiRocco GatorNation
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Yeguete is a dirty-work player.
Florida's 6-foot-7 sophomore forward is on the court to play defense and grab rebounds. That's it. Occasionally Yeguete will put up eight or 10 points, but that's just a pleasant bonus for the 11th-ranked Gators.
Florida's Will Yeguete (15) and Erik Murphy, left, defend Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli during the first half on Saturday.
Because of that, his work usually goes unnoticed by anyone looking at the stat sheet. Not, however, on Saturday. Kenny Boynton scored 18 points and Bradley Beal added 16 and seven rebounds, but it was Yeguete who keyed Florida's 73-65 victory over Vanderbilt in front of 11,270 at the O'Connell Center.
He is the point man in Florida's full-court press, which wreaked havoc with Vanderbilt's offense. The Gators caused 17 turnovers, including three by point guard Brad Tinsley and five by forward Lance Goulbourne, and and got the Commodores out of their offensive flow. Yegeute was at the center of the confusion, ending up with a team-high three steals and two other deflections.
"He was great," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "He was really, really good in the press. He was disruptive -- steals, deflections."
The spot Yeguete plays in the press is the hardest because it requires tremendous conditioning, a high basketball IQ, and a great deal of athleticism. Having freakishly long arms helps, too. Yeguete has all of that, and Donovan said Yeguete is doing it better than anyone he's had since Brent Wright from 1998-2001.
It's a hard job to handle because there's an element of freelancing mixed in with discipline.
"There's a lot of decisions he has to make in the press of when to go trap, when not to go trap, understanding how the floor is starting to move and look, and he's got a really, really high IQ of understanding that," Donovan said. "When he's in that mode there and he can kind of freelance around, he can cause some problems."
Yeguete has essentially figured it out in little more than four months. He played sparingly last season, averaging 7.1 minutes per game, and really didn't get to work at the point spot in the press until practice began in mid-October.
"We used to press a lot last year but obviously I wasn't' playing that much," said Yeguete, who is from Bourdeaux, France, but played at Melbourne, Fla./Florida Air Academy. "This year I feel like we're quicker than last year, so I'm getting more and more comfortable doing this, especially when the team is turning the ball over.
"You've got to trap and you've got to sprint back to your man. I guess you get used to it over the games because we do it in practice and pretty much press every game."
Saturday's performance was the best the Gators (19-4, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) have had with the press this season. The 17 turnovers were the most they've forced in SEC play, and the Gators scored 19 points off the mistakes. Those turnovers allowed UF to run, which is the way the Gators want to play, and get into a better offensive flow.
The game's tempo see-sawed. When the Gators' press was effective and forced turnovers, they were able to put together spurts of points. When the Commodores were able to get the ball past midcourt and set up their half-court offense, they were able to make small runs.
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"Our press was the reason we won the game, because we were able to force turnovers and get them to play fast and get them away from running their sets," Beal said. "[John] Jenkins is great coming off screens and Jeff Taylor's also great coming off screens [in the half-court offense].
"We were really patient and then we trapped hard and we were able to rotate and force turnovers. It's probably our best performance."
Vanderbilt (16-7, 5-3) is not a great ball-handling team, and Commodores coach Kevin Stallings said they were never able to consistently handle the pressure the Gators put on the ball.
"We didn't do a very good job of attacking it," Stallings said. "It was disruptive and we did a poor job with our spacing. We did a poor job with our ball-handling. It caused problems."
Donovan didn't put the Gators in the press right away. With Patric Young back in the starting lineup -- Yeguete had started in his spot the past five games while Young battled ankle tendinitis -- Donovan wanted to start the game in man defense. He switched to the press when Yeguete first entered the game after Young picked up his first foul less than two minutes into the game.
"I thought that it was at least disruptive," Donovan said. "Not that they turned it over all the time, but it was at least disruptive to take them out of their flow and they had to take shots out of the framework of their offense."
Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.