ORLANDO — For as long as junior forward Erik Murphy is going to be sidelined by a meniscus tear in his right knee, the Gators are going to rely on sophomore Will Yeguete.
If Monday’s game against Stetson is any indication, Yeguete is up to the challenge.
Making only his second career start, Yeguete recorded his first double-double, scoring 10 points and hauling in 11 rebounds.
Still, when asked about Yeguete’s performance after the game, coach Billy Donovan’s first thought was on the sophomore’s shortcomings.
“We’ve got to work on his layups,” Donovan said. “Still need to work on layups.”
Yeguete missed five layups Monday, the only blemishes on his 4-of-9 shooting performance and a clear reminder that he’s a different player from Murphy.
“He doesn’t shoot the ball like Erik does from the perimeter, but he does get in there and rebound,” Donovan said. “He makes hustle plays. He’s really good in the front of the press.”
Yeguete’s hustle has been evident on the stat sheet throughout his career. Last season, he led UF in rebounds per minute by a comfortable margin and would have posted the best offensive rebound percentage at 20.2 percent — the percentage of available offensive rebounds Yeguete grabs when he’s on the court — in the nation if he had played enough minutes to qualify.
That continued Monday, as Yeguete grabbed six offensive boards in his 26 minutes of action.
He was also a force at the top of UF’s press, recording a game-high four steals.
“Will is doing a lot of things,” Donovan said. “He’s really one of our better defenders. He’s clearly one of our better rebounders.”
But, outside of that, Yeguete’s game still appears to be limited.
He turned the ball over twice against Stetson after leading the team in turnovers per minute last season, and Donovan said early in the game Yeguete forced layups and put-back attempts when passing might have been a better option.
But, facing a similar situation later in the contest, Donovan said Yeguete made the right move by passing the ball out, showing his capacity to grow and learn as his career progresses.
“He’s just got to get better with the ball, making decisions,” Donovan said. “He’s getting better.”
His improvement, as well as the development of sophomore swingman Casey Prather, will be critical as long as UF is forced to play without Murphy.
“For someone like him playing limited minutes, and Casey last year playing limited minutes, now that they’re getting an opportunity to play more, I think that they’re getting more and more comfortable,” Donovan said.
Contact Greg Luca at email@example.com.