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Bench contributors playing major role

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Posted: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 12:20 am

If there ever were a point during Billy Donovan’s tenure at Florida when he needed a deep bench, this would be the year.

Gone are the days of playing three starters for 30 or more minutes each game like the Gators did en route to winning a second straight national championship in 2007.

Because of injuries and suspensions this season, Donovan has been forced to spread playing time more evenly across the board.

However, the bench has answered the call for No. 6 Florida so far, and Donovan said that’s been a key to the Gators’ 15-2 start and nine-game winning streak.

“I think one of the things that’s been good with our team is our team has recognized that when we’ve been down a man or have been short some personnel, we’ve had some other guys step into some roles,” Donovan said. “And I tell our guys all the time, ‘Whether you play 12 minutes or play 25 minutes, what are you doing with the amount of time or minutes that you’re being given?’”

With the regular season just passing the halfway point, the Gators’ bench is on pace to have seen the most playing time under Donovan since KenPom.com started keeping track of the stat in 2007.

Florida’s bench has played 34.4 percent of Florida’s minutes this season. In the seven years KenPom.com has kept statistics on bench percentage minutes, Donovan has limited his role players’ playing time to 28 percent or fewer each year, which was one of the lowest in the nation.

But with early-season suspensions of Scottie Wilbekin and Dorian Finney-Smith and lingering injury problems, Donovan has relied heavily on DeVon Walker and Jacob Kurtz to keep his team relevant.

“Early in the year, clearly (Kurtz) was in the rotation where he was playing 18 to 22 minutes a game,” Donovan said.

“We start to get some players back and some games he hasn’t played, some games in foul trouble he has stepped in. DeVon, we had the situation at Arkansas, (so) we started him in the game and he gave us some really good minutes.”

Walker has gone from averaging less than one point and one rebound during his four minutes per game last year to averaging 3.2 points and 1.9 rebounds in nearly 17 minutes per contest.

Kurtz has already nearly tripled the total number of points he scored during his first two years at Florida (14) in just 16 games this season (35).

“You need to take and utilize what you have with the amount of minutes you’re playing and do the best job you can,” Donovan said. “So those guys have handled themselves very, very well, where in some games they don’t know how many minutes they’re going to play and they’ve been ready to play, which is the most important thing.”

Follow Jonathan Czupryn on Twitter @jczupryn

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