Walker leads No. 14 Florida past Arkansas 98-68By KURT VOIGT, AP Sports Writer Saturday, Feb 18, 2012
Walker scored a career-high 31 points as the No. 14 Gators shot a season-high 58.3 percent from the field in a 98-68 win on Saturday.
It’s the fourth win in five road games for Florida (21-6, 9-3 Southeastern Conference), which opened the season 0-4 on the road. Walker set the pace, scoring 18 first-half points as the Gators opened a 53-27 halftime lead and were never threatened in the second half.
Walker had hit 2 of 18 3-point attempts in his last four games before Saturday. However, the senior hit his first four attempts against the Razorbacks (17-10, 5-7) and finished 5 of 6 from behind the arc.
Florida was 13 of 23 on 3-pointers as a team and hit 29 of 34 free throws. Kenny Boynton had 25 points and Bradley Beal added 21 for the Gators.
“Obviously, it was a perfect storm in a lot of ways because we got to the free-throw line and we shot the ball very, very well,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
The loss ended a 17-0 start to the season in Fayetteville for the Razorbacks, who were led by BJ Young’s career-high 31 points. It was Arkansas’ worst defeat in Bud Walton Arena since it opened in 1993.
The previous worst loss was a 73-51 defeat to Auburn in 2009. The Razorbacks were down by more than that at halftime to the Gators.
“Talk about tough days at the office,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “That was a tough day at the office.”
Arkansas was led in 2009 by former coach John Pelphrey.
Pelphrey was once again on hand Saturday, only this time as an assistant coach for the Gators after behind fired by Arkansas after last season. He entered the arena to a polite ovation from the Razorbacks crowd, which had few opportunities to cheer once the game started.
“This is a big win for us and we did it for Coach Pel,” Beal said. “We just wanted to make a statement and make up for him.”
Pelphrey was fired after compiling a 69-59 record in four seasons at Arkansas. He said at the time that he wasn’t given enough time to turn around a Razorbacks program that had missed the NCAA Tournament the last three seasons.
He was prophetic for much of the season for Arkansas, which had wins over three ranked teams at home on its resume. However, its only lead on Saturday came after Mardracus Wade’s 3-pointer put the Razorbacks up 3-2.
The game was all about the Gators after that, particularly Walker in the early going. The senior was 6 of 7 shooting in the first half, including 4 of 4 3-pointers, and he scored 11-straight points at one point in the half. He opened the stretch with a drive to the basket and followed it with three-straight 3-pointers that helped Florida extend its lead to 30-13.
His previous career high also came against Arkansas, a 27-point effort two years ago as a sophomore.
“This is a tough place to play and we knew they were undefeated at home,” Walker said. “We just wanted to come in and grab control early and not let the crowd get into it.”
Florida was 21 of 31 (68 percent) from the field at one point early in the second half and hit 11 of its first 16 3-point attempts. The Gators, who lead the SEC in made 3-pointers, finished 28 of 48 from the field, topping a 56.3 percent performance in a win over LSU on Jan. 21.
Florida opened the season 0-4 on the road, including losses at Ohio State, Syracuse, Rutgers and Tennessee. The Gators improved to 4-5 on the road with the win and have now won four of their last five.
Arkansas was 21 of 57 (37 percent) from the field. Young scored 23 of his points in the second half and finished 10 of 19 from the field, but the Razorbacks were never able to get closer than 22 points in the second half.
“I think they were just the better team today,” Young said. “They hit a lot of 3s. It’s hard to stop a team that’s shooting as well as they did in the first half.
“I don’t really think that they’re 30 points better than us. I think they just had a great game today.”