There was a chance that Scottie Wilbekin would not be available for the Florida Gators on Saturday versus Arkansas, but luckily for the Gators, Wilbekin was able to go. The Florida roster is full of very talented basketball players, but this team will go as far as Wilbekin can take them, and no further proof is needed after watching him bring Florida back in the final seconds to beat Arkansas 84-82 in overtime.
Wilbekin did not start the game for Florida, and there was no guarantee he would play at all, but when it became evident early in the first half that Florida needed him to win, he came off the bench and scored 18 points. But it wasn’t just the points Wilbekin scored, he also navigated the pressure defense of Arkansas, and only committed one turnover. Playing Arkansas in Bud Walton Arena is no easy task; the pressure they apply, the speed at which they play and the crowd noise makes it really tough to win there. Florida tried to go without Wilbekin early, but they needed him. Freshman point guard Kasey Hill is one of the best freshmen players in the country, but his inexperience showed early. Florida knows they need the steady hand of Wilbekin, especially after watching Hill commit five turnovers against Arkansas’ pressure defense.
The Gators have already played five games without Wilbekin this season due to suspension, and after rolling his ankle against South Carolina, it looked as if the Gators would be missing their senior guard some more. His absence has cost Florida one loss this season — a 59-53 loss to Wisconsin — and Billy Donovan knew that if he had to go the entire game without Wilbekin versus Arknasas, the Gators would have been toast.
Wilbekin is not only the Gators’ best ball-handler, and can beat anyone’s press, he is also their main man in clutch situations. He has been involved in almost every kind of situation during his time at Florida, so he doesn’t get flustered or rushed like the younger players do. When Florida trailed by two points with 16.1 seconds left, Wilbekin was the only answer. Florida quickly got the ball to Wilbekin, so Donovan decided a timeout would not be necessary, and Wilbekin went one-on-one and hit a mid-range floater off the backboard to force overtime.
Without Wilbekin on the court, Florida would have lost this game. He is the engine that keeps this machine going. In college basketball, guards rule the land; you need a player who can get his own shot as well as get others easy looks. He is the key player to watch for Florida going forward, and as long as he stays healthy and out of trouble, the Gators can beat any team in the country.
Follow Robbie on Twitter @rmarbury.