After 38 games, the Florida Gators basketball team is in remarkable health just days away from playing in the NCAA Tournament national semifinals on Saturday.
That is, except, for backup point guard Kasey Hill, who has been battling a case of turf toe. But the freshman from Umatilla has been gutting it out and even playing some of his best basketball of the season.
“I know turf toe is painful, but come on ... we’re playing in the Final Four,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan during a news conference at Florida on Monday. “He’ll be fine. He’s a great kid. I do appreciate him working through that.”
Aside from that, the Gators (36-2) will have everyone healthy when they take the court against Connecticut (30-8) at 6:09 p.m. on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Kentucky and Wisconsin play in the other semifinal, 40 minutes after the conclusion of the UF-UConn game.
Hill has been playing well through his pain. Coming off the bench for Scottie Wilbekin or playing with the senior to give Donovan more ball-handling and more good foul shooters late in the game, Hill has averaged 5.2 points, 3.7 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game in the NCAA Tournament. He’s made 9-of-10 free throws and against UCLA, became only the fourth freshman in tournament history to have 10 or more assists in a game.
Gene Frenette: This time, Gators can write a better ending
It also was Florida’s season-high for assists by one player in a game. Wilbekin’s best has been eight assists twice, against Florida State and Mississippi State.
The Gators’ injury situation during the last three months of the season has been far better than the first two.
Hill missed four games early in the season (Middle Tennessee, Jacksonville, Florida State and Connecticut) because of a sprained ankle. Forward Casey Prather missed two early SEC games (Arkansas and Georgia) because a bone bruise near his knee.
Scottie Wilbekin hurt his ankle against UConn in December and missed a few practices but not a game.
But other than some occasional knee issues with senior center Patric Young (who has played every game), the Gators have been injury-free since Prather returned to the lineup.
Wilbekin has played all 31 games since a five-game suspension at the start of the season, and leads UF in minutes played with just a fraction under 34 per game. Michael Frazier hasn’t missed a game and forward Will Yeguete has been the iron man, starting all 38 games this season.
Donovan has been able to write down the same starting lineup for the last 17 games, and 20 of the last 21. Despite that, Donovan was glad for the six days in between the 62-52 victory over Dayton in the South Region finals and the semifinal game against the Huskies.
“Our staff, our trainers, strength coaches have got to get them back physically,” Donovan said. “Both [South Region] games against UCLA and Dayton were difficult, battling games. It kind of came down to the last minute or two. So physically, us getting back [is important].”
Donovan was more concerned with keeping his team on an emotional even keel and also gave them a deadline of Monday for dealing with ticket demands from family.
“The biggest thing right now is these guys have got to get their personal stuff out of the way,” he said. “I can’t even imagine the amount of people that want tickets from them and people want this or that. I need to give them time to handle their personal stuff ... that’s what [Sunday and Monday] were for.”
Garry Smits: (904) 359-4362