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November 12, 2010After Florida got off to a slow start, true freshman Scottie Wilbekin brought the team to life, giving them their first lead of the game with some heads-up play in the season opener against UNC-Wilmington.
UF was down 11-5 when Erving Walker stole a pass and dished it to Wilbekin up the floor. Wilbekin found an open Casey Prather under the basket for an easy dunk.
On the very next play, Walker picked off another pass and found Wilbekin on the break. Wilbekin flew to the right side of the rim, throwing in a lay-up that rolled around the rim and dropped in as he drew a foul.
The hustle and the three-point play showed what the young point guard brings to the table.
"He's a good defender," head coach Billy Donovan said. "He's a tough kid. He's a physical kid."
Wilbekin, who suffered a neck injury in Florida's exhibition game against Florida Tech, led the defense with an impressive performance. He notched a game-high four steals on the night and was excellent on the press as the Gators won 77-60.
He showed no signs of being slowed by the injury and also contributed a game-high five assists.
"It was just good to get the first game under my belt and play hard defense," Wilbekin said after the game. "Whenever I'm out there, I'm just playing my hardest."
His energy off the bench helped spark the Gators, who got off to a sluggish start in the game.
His hustle was infectious, as Florida began to execute the full-court press with authority. The Gators forced 20 turnovers thanks to Wilbekin's hustle defensively.
"Scottie did really well," guard Kenny Boynton said. "When he came in the game, he kinda gave us intensity. I couldn't ask more of Scottie tonight the way he played."
A few minutes after Wilbekin helped Florida take its first lead, the Gators used an 18-4 run between the end of the first half and the start of the second, putting the game out of reach just past the midway point.
Florida's biggest run started after UNC-Wilmington point guard Chad Tomko scored five straight points near the end of the first half, cutting the score to 29-26.
Chandler Parsons answered on the other end with a three-point play after banking home a layup and picking up a blocking foul. Walker drained a three-pointer seconds later, and Parsons took the Gators to the half with a buzzer-beating two-point shot.
Florida went into the half up 37-26 and never looked back.
After both of Florida's exhibition games, Donovan voiced his concerns over the Gators' sloppy second half performances.
No such worries in the regular season opener.
The Gators wore down an undersized Seahawks squad with its deep bench and unrelenting full-court press, outscoring UNC-Wilmington 40 to 34 in the second half.
"I felt like we came out with the right energy and the right mindset (in the second half)," Donovan said. "I felt like the first four minutes we set a pretty good tone."
The Gators also benefited from a balanced scoring effort, with ten players scoring in the game. Four players scored in double digits, led by Parsons with a team-high 16 points. Alex Tyus (13), Kenny Boynton (10) and Erik Murphy (10) were all in double digits.
Florida shot 49.1 percent from the floor on 28-57 shooting. The Gators finished at 31.6 percent from three-point range on 6-19 shooting.