Scottie Wilbekin needed no inducements to become Florida’s principal defender.
Wilbekin has embraced the role since he was nine years old and pressing full court for the Gainesville Gators AAU team.
“I love playing defense,” Wilbekin, a junior guard, said.
Wilbekin was an all-Southeastern Conference defender this year in his first season as a starter. On Sunday night he faces another difficult assignment, a matchup with Minnesota guard Andre Hollins in an NCAA Tournament game at the Erwin Center.
Hollins leads Minnesota in scoring with 14.3 points a game. He torched UCLA with 28 on Friday. Hollins, a sophomore, converted 5 of 8 3-point shots and made five assists against one turnover. He scored a career-best 41 against Memphis in November.
The 6-foot-2 Wilbekin vs. 6-1 Hollins is a critical matchup as third-seeded Florida and No. 11 Minnesota determine who advances to the South Region semifinals in Arlington next week.
Hollins figures he is prepared for the challenge of Wilbekin after facing Ohio State defensive hound Aaron Craft this season. Hollins hit just 4 of 13 shots in the one game against Ohio State.
“You have to be more decisive with your moves and how you are going to attack,” Hollins said. “Just be a little bit more secure with the ball. I think that works well for me so I won’t make careless turnovers, like I do sometimes.”
Florida has more than Wilbekin in its favor. Center Patric Young was also named to the all-SEC defensive team.
The Gators rank second nationally in scoring defense (53.6 points a game) and fourth in shooting accuracy allowed (37.7).
“The biggest concern I have is their defense,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. “They will press you, speed you up, and we have a propensity to cough the ball up.”
Florida coach Billy Donovan was introduced to that defense while playing for Rick Pitino at Providence – they went to the 1987 NCAA Final Four — and working as his assistant at Kentucky from 1989-1994.
“He talks about it here and there, the pressure he learned from coach Pitino,” Rosario said.
Wilbekin said he began playing that way with the Gainesville Gators.
“We always pressed,” Wilbekin said. “Teams couldn’t even get it past half court. That’s when I started to love defense.”
Florida ranked fifth in the SEC in turnovers committed by opponents, but there is more to full-court pressure than taking the ball away.
“Our philosophy is to make guards feel uncomfortable,” Florida guard Mike Rosario said. “We want to make sure when you get the ball over half court, the shot clock is at 25 or 23 seconds and you don’t have time to run offense. That’s our main goal.”
And Wilbekin is the main man who helped induce 10 turnovers and 1-for-7 shooting from Missouri point guard Phil Pressey two days after limiting Texas A&M’s Elston Turner to one basket in 10 tries.
“I think (Wilbekin) has three qualities that enable him to be very, very good,” Donovan said. “He’s got great feet. He is a physical defender. He is a tough minded defender maybe more so than any guard I ever coached.”