Capitals

No. 4 Florida piling up wins with stingy defense

201301302015729276295-p2.jpeg

No. 4 Florida piling up wins with stingy defense

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Billy Donovan has coached plenty of good defensive teams in his 17 seasons at Florida.

None of them quite like this.

The fourth-ranked Gators have been ridiculously stingy this season, especially in Southeastern Conference play.

Florida (17-2, 7-0 SEC) ranks second in the nation in scoring defense, giving up a paltry 50.4 points a game. The Gators have held 15 teams under 60 points, 11 under 50 and three under 40.

The latest defensive masterpiece came Wednesday night against South Carolina. In winning its ninth consecutive game, Florida allowed the program's fewest points (36) in conference play during the shot-clock era.

For an encore, the league's top scoring team, Mississippi visits Gainesville on Saturday to test Florida's defense.

The 16th-ranked Rebels (17-3, 6-1) are averaging 80 points a game and should provide a tough test for Florida's stout D.

No SEC team has really challenged the Gators so far. Florida has won seven games by an average of 28.3 points, looking like the class of the field in a watered-down league.

``We're just consistent,'' forward Will Yeguete said. ``We have a couple of breakdowns a game, but we stay consistent. We keep guarding teams every single time, possession after possession. ... It's good to say that you're a really good defensive team.''

Few Donovan-coached teams even compare.

The back-to-back national champions - the ones led by Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford and Joakim Noah - used to be considered Donovan's best defensive group. And the 1999-2000 team, which advanced to the NCAA final, had top-notch defenders in guard Justin Hamilton and forward Brent Wright.

But none of those teams had as much defensive depth as this year's unit.

Between guards Scottie Wilbekin and Kenny Boynton, swingman Casey Prather, Yeguete and center Pat Young, the Gators have five players who take as much pride in stops and steals as dunks and jumpers.

``When you're a kid growing up playing the game of basketball, or if you're a kid growing up playing the game of football, I can't imagine that many guys that want to go to the park today and play and say, `I'm not going to take my ball, but I'm going to do defensive slides for two hours. I'm going to work on running back in transition. I'm going to grab some people in the school yard to run me over and take charges,''' Donovan said. ``Those things that you're talking about doing are not things that are enjoyable.

``But I often find that the things that make teams successful are the players that have the desire to do the things that are uncomfortable.''

Making opponents uncomfortable starts with Wilbekin and Boynton, both aggressive, on-ball defenders who have the quickness and stamina to run the press, the length to affect perimeter shots and the kind of experience that makes it easy to get them on the same page.

Wilbekin kept Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (season-low 11 points), Texas A&M's Elston Turner (4 points on 1-of-10 shooting) and Missouri's Phil Pressey (2 points, 10 turnovers) in check last month. And Boynton was equally effective the last two games against Mississippi State's Jalen Steele (scoreless) and South Carolina's Bruce Ellington (7 points on 2-of-9 shooting).

Maybe the most overlooked part of what Wilbekin and Boynton have done is how they have made everyone around them want to play better defense. Young, forward Erik Murphy and guard Mike Rosario are playing the best defense of their careers.

``It's contagious,'' Rosario said. ``We're all feeding off those guys and what they're doing in the press and on the defensive end.''

The Gators are motivated to keep it going, too.

They ended NCAA tournament runs the last two years by collapsing on the defensive end.

Florida was up 11 with about 8 minutes to play against Louisville last year, but managed just three points the rest of the way and lost 72-68. The 2010-11 season ended in similar fashion. The Gators led Butler by 11 points midway through the second half before faltering down the stretch and losing in overtime.

``This team has been to two Elite Eights and we've seen how a lack of defense will let a team back in a game,'' Boynton said. ``It's definitely a mental thing with us: we've been there before and we're not to let it happen again.''

Quick Links

Caps make second blue line addition, acquire Jakub Jerabek from Montreal

jerebek-capitals-graphic-hero-usat.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Caps make second blue line addition, acquire Jakub Jerabek from Montreal

The Capitals continued to retool their scuffling blue line on Wednesday, acquiring 26-year-old defenseman Jakub Jerabek from Montreal in exchange for a fifth-round pick in 2019.

The move comes a couple of days after GM Brian MacLellan dealt a conditional third-round selection to Chicago for swift skating Michal Kempny.

Both Jerabek and Kempny are left shot, puck-moving defensemen who move well and make crisp outlet passes. Both also hail from the Czech Republic.

RELATED: BRADEN HOLTBY BLAMES HIMSELF FOR TAMPA LOSS

The team sees Jerabek as a No. 5 or 6, I’m told.

On Wednesday, the Caps also officially said goodbye to Taylor Chorney, who was claimed off waivers by Columbus. Chorney will report to the Blue Jackets.

The Caps were off on Wednesday as they made their way Florida for Thursday night’s meeting with the Panthers, so it’s unclear how Coach Barry Trotz intends to deploy his new defensemen.

But it’s probably safe to assume that Kempny will move into a spot within the top four with John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen.

MORE CAPITALS: GET TO KNOW MICHAL KEMPNY

That figures to leave Brooks Orpik and Jerabek on the third pair, while rookies Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey jockey for position as the next man up.

Kempny is expected to make his Caps’ debut on Thursday night.

Is the Caps’ D corps better? Well, that remains to be seen. But it had become clear to MacLellan and Co. in recent weeks that the status quo was not going to cut it. This month, in fact, the team has allowed 39 goals in 10 games. Only the Rangers (40) have allowed more in the same span.

With the trade deadline looming next Monday, the Caps now have roughly $617,000 in cap space, according to www.capfriendly.com, and are at the roster maximum of 23 players. So they would need to make a move in order to add another body.

Quick Links

NHL Trade Tracker 2018: Latest deadline rumors, deals

NHL Trade Tracker 2018: Latest deadline rumors, deals

The 2018 NHL Trade Deadline is nearly here, marking the final point in the season teams can make major shakeups before preparing for the stretch run and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The 2018 NHL Trade Deadline takes place a week earlier than in 2017, and teams have until 3:00 p.m. ET on Monday afternoon to make their final pre-deadline deals. That being said, the trade deadline is not the end of player movement in 2018, but signifies the end of the open trade window.

But with less than w eek left, the trade rumors are swirling, with teams putting out feelers and reaching out to potential trade partners.

The Capitals started the trade deadline period a week early, with a minor trade on Monday and another on Wednesday.

RELATED: TRACKING THE FAVORITES TO WIN NHL AWARDS

2018 NHL TRADE DEADLINE TRACKER:

February 21: TRADE — The Montreal Canadiens trade D Jakub Jerabek to the Washington Capitals for a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. (TRADE ANALYSIS)

February 21: RUMOR — The Columbus Blue Jackets have shown interest in acquiring Artem Anisimov from the Chicago Blackhawks, a team attempting a major rebuild toward the end of the 2017-18 season.

February 20: TRADE — The Toronto Maple Leafs trade C Erif Fehr to the San Jose Sharks for a seventh-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

February 20: RUMOR — The Ottawa Senators are looking to deal D Erik Karlsson and C Bobby Ryan. The Sens have already begun to enter "tank" mode. Moving Karlsson and/or Ryan would make it all but official.

February 20: TRADE — The New York Rangers trade D Nick Holden to the Boston Bruins for D Rob O'Gara and a third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

February 19: TRADE — The Chicago Blackhawks trade D Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals for a third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. (TRADE ANALYSIS)

February 19: RUMOR — The Anaheim Ducks look to be targeting Vancouver Canucks LW Thomas Vanek, but the Canucks may 'kick tires" on a potential trade if the return isn't right. 

February 19: TRADE — The Detroit Red Wings trade G Petr Mrazek to the Philadelphia Flyers for a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and a conditional third-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

February 19: RUMOR — The Pittsburgh Penguins are interested in pursuing speedy New York Rangers RW Michael Grabner.

February 17: RUMOR — The Ottawa Senators' fire sale continues to heat up. The St. Louis Blues are reportedly interested in Senators RW Mike Hoffman and C Derick Brassard.

February 15: TRADE — Toronto Maple Leafs trade RW Nikita Soshnikov to the St. Louis Blues for a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

February 15: TRADE — The Chicago Blackhawks trade D Ville Pokka to the Ottawa Senators for LW Chris DiDomenico.

February 13: RUMOR — New York Rangers LW Rick Nash is rumored to be a major trade target for virtually every team within playoff reach. The Nashville Predators have been rumored to be the favorites for the former No. 1 overall draft pick.

February 13: TRADE — The Los Angeles Kings trade RW Marian Gaborik and C Nick Shore to the Ottawa Senators for D Dion Phaneuf and C Nate Thompson.