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Senior forward shining early in season

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Posted: Sunday, December 1, 2013 10:22 pm

Casey Prather has been Florida’s most productive player through seven games.

The senior leads the Gators this season with 19.1 points per game — more than triple his average of 6.2 from a year ago — on 64 percent shooting. His rebounds (5.7) and assists (2.4) per game have increased significantly since last season.

Prather filled the stat sheet during Florida’s 67-66 win against Florida State on Friday night in the O’Connell Center, recording a team-high 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting, four rebounds, an assist and no turnovers in 26 minutes.

What has caused Prather’s rapid improvement?

“Just being more aggressive, I guess,” Prather said.

Attacking the rim with more aggression has worked in the favor of the 6-foot-6, 212-pound Prather, especially with the NCAA’s new hand-check rule translating to more visits to the foul line for teams.

Prather leads the team in free-throw attempts with 51 and has shot 72.5 percent from the charity stripe. Almost all of his field-goal attempts this year have come inside the arc.

Because he has been one of Florida’s healthiest players this year, Prather has utilized his daring style of basketball as a slasher. In previous years, multiple injuries — such as concussions and a high ankle sprain — made the Jackson, Tenn., native wary and hesitant.

Coach Billy Donovan said Prather has played with a clearer understanding of the game this season. He sees the forward improving his pacing and patience on the floor.

“He’s a guy that probably the first couple of years in his career was really painful for him,” Donovan said. “He was a deer in the headlights a lot of times. The lights came on and he was very unsure of himself. And I think for him this year, he’s gotten better. He’s playing to his strengths. He’s not forcing shots. He’s not trying to make plays that aren’t there. He’s been a lot more productive and selective.

“The fact when you’re a player and you know you’re going to be on the floor, you know you’re going to be out there, sometimes it’s a little bit easier because you know you’re going to be there.”

Also benefitting Prather this year is that he has been able to play most of his minutes at small forward — his natural spot. Last year, Prather mostly saw time on the floor as a power forward because of Florida’s lack of frontcourt depth.

“It helps a lot,” Prather said of playing small forward. “It helps me run the floor a little bit more, instead of taking the ball out because the four-man takes the ball out. It allows me to run up and down the court.”

No. 15 Florida (6-1) hopes Prather will continue his recent tear when it squares off against No. 13 Connecticut (7-0) tonight at 7 in Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.

The Huskies, who utilize a three-guard starting lineup, have seen consistent production from junior forward DeAndre Daniels and senior guard Shabazz Napier. The duo has combined for 28.4 points and 12 rebounds per game this season.

“It’s going to be a great challenge for our guys,” Prather said. “They’re a good team. Their guards are very quick, explosive, athletic.

“They have matchup problems just as well as we have matchup problems. We just have to do a good job converting on each and every offensive and defensive play.”

Walker questionable for UConn game: After missing Friday’s game, sophomore swingman DeVon Walker (mid-foot sprain) did not practice Saturday.

“I’m not planning on him playing right now,” Donovan said. “That’s not to say that he couldn’t. He has not practiced now in a while, so it’s always hard.”

Follow Landon Watnick on Twitter @LandonWatnick.

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