Double bonus | The Star’s weekly look at Big 12, SEC basketball

Gators in a sprint since loss to K-State at Sprint

Updated: 2013-02-04T22:38:20Z

By BLAIR KERKHOFF

The Kansas City Star

The Florida team that lost to Kansas State at the Sprint Center just before Christmas had been getting by on hustle and energy. The defense had been tough but the offensive flow just wasn’t there.

Nobody has seen that Florida team since then.

The Gators take a 10-game winning streak into Tuesday night’s game at Arkansas, and the closest margin in that run came in Florida’s most recent win, Saturday against Mississippi. Florida won 78-64, and Rebels guard Marshall Henderson, the SEC’s leading scorer who dropped in 25, was impressed.

“I think they’ll contend for the national championship,” Henderson said. “They execute perfectly.”

SEC coaches chomped by the Gators this season agree. Florida, 8-0 in league play, 18-2 overall and No. 2 in the major polls, is on top of its game.

“They’re playing as well as any team in the country right now,” said Frank Haith, whose Missouri team lost to Florida by 31 on Jan. 19.

The defense has been there all year. Entering the week, Florida ranked second nationally in scoring defense at 50.4 points per game and trailed only Kansas in field-goal percentage defense at 35.9.

The jelling offense has been the eye-opening development. Florida is shooting lights out, 49.6 percent on all shots, and 39.1 percent from beyond the arc. Both figures lead the SEC.

The Gators are wonderfully balanced with Kenny Boynton (13.4), Erik Murphy (12.8), Mike Rosario (12.1) and Patric Young (11.1) averaging in double figures. But Florida is doing just about everything else right.

“Obviously, we’ve played good defense,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “But we’re also shooting a high percentage from the field.”

Great defense, good offense makes Florida a handful, and maybe the team to beat during the NCAA Tournament.

Players of the week

•  Big 12 player of the week: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

Smart scored the game-winner against Iowa State on a drive with 2 seconds remaining, then played his best game of the season with 25 points in the Cowboys’ victory at Kansas.

•  Big 12 rookie of the week: Will Clyburn, Iowa State

Clyburn, the senior transfer from Utah, averaged 21 points and seven rebounds for the week as the Cyclones rebounded from their loss at Oklahoma State and defeated Baylor.

•  SEC player of the week: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia

Caldwell-Pope averaged 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in leading the Bulldogs to a pair of victories, home against Auburn and at South Carolina.

•  SEC freshman of the week: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky

The shot-blocking machine was at it again. Noel’s 12 blocks at Mississippi set a school record and for the week, Noel averaged 10.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and seven blocks.

Two quotes

• “Praise to Frank Martin. He created a culture of toughness and defense.”

| Kansas State coach Bruce Weber on his predecessor, now at South Carolina

• “It’s slightly different. Bruce’s group helps a little more from the weak side. It’s a little more team defense.”

| Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger on the difference between the defensive approaches by Martin and Weber

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

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