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November 1, 2012

Freshmen lead the way in exhibition win



Florida has an experienced starting lineup: two seniors, a redshirt senior and two juniors.

Thursday night's 101-71 exhibition win against Division II Nebraska-Kearney was all about four freshmen.

Florida's entire freshman class left its mark on the first O'Connell Center evening of the 2012-2013 season. Michael Frazier II, Dillon Graham, DeVon Walker and Braxton Ogbueze, all entered the game one-by-one early in the first half and stayed for the main course.

It all started because of the downfalls of those ahead of them.

Gators coach Billy Donovan has talked for weeks about how this year's team will be an improved defensive unit and a better rebounding squad. Then he got a lackluster first half in which the Lopers were regularly within striking range of the Gators. The intensity wasn't there. Many of the same issues from 2011-2012 were still there.

"I just saw time and time again, our older veteran guys getting beat off the dribble, not rebounding the basketball," Donovan said. "I was much, much more pleased with our freshmen."

So in the second half, Donovan looked for a spark and found it in the form of four freshmen and sixth man Will Yeguete, who finished the night with a double-double.

Florida's lineup wasn't experienced or particularly big. Yeguete, at 6-foot-7, was the tallest player on the court. Donovan admitted that the freshmen still generally do not know what they are doing on the floor, having just a few weeks of team practice under their belts.

But it was their intensity and excitement that gave Donovan the idea to make a wholesale change. It was an eight-point game when the Gators decided to put four freshmen in the game. By the time a starter was subbed back in, Florida led by 17. The game had finally been broken open.

"Once we got in as a unit, we said, 'This is our chance. We've got to play hard and see what happens,'" Frazier said.

Frazier was the undeniable star of the evening. The 6-foot-4 guard from Tampa emerged as a smooth scorer and dynamic offensive weapon. He was 8-of-10 from the field, 5-of-6 from the 3-point line. He led the Gators in scoring with 21 points in 17 minutes of action.

Yeguete, a star on any other night with 20 points of his own, said he felt Frazier probably surprised some people who hadn't seen him play before.

"I knew he could shoot. You just got to get him going," Yeguete said. "If you tell him to shoot, he's going to shoot and he's going to make it."

Walker was the only one of Florida's four freshmen who didn't score in double figures.

It was a sign of things to come for the Gators but what that means for the present remains to be seen. Mike Rosario, Patric Young and Erik Murphy were all players who Donovan had high hopes of improvement for, and all three disappointed him Thursday night.

The consolation: It's only an exhibition game.


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