By Stacey Kilpatrick
Sometimes the littlest guy can weave his way through players and make more of a difference than the tallest, strongest of them all.
Erving Walker, Florida’s 5-foot-8-inch, 171-pound junior guard, put down a game-high 21 points, three rebounds, two assists and one steal in Saturday’s second-round 73-65 win. The #2 Gators advance over #7 UCLA to the Sweet 16.
Walker put down a handful of key plays, but he had two standouts.
With 1:11 remaining it was a one-point game; the Gators leading 66-65. Walker ran to midcourt, leapt up and grabbed an inbound pass – wrestling against UCLA’s Malcolm Lee — for a three-point jumper, inching Florida to 69-65, closer to victory.
Prior at 4:03, the Gators were up 61-58 when Walker found himself matched against the biggest of them all, UCLA’s 6’10”, 305-pound freshman center Joshua Smith. Charging up the left of the key, Walker ran into Smith, fell backwards and still managed to ark his throw high enough for the score, putting Florida ahead, 63-58.
The junior scored 10 points in the final 6:30, with four coming in the last 33 seconds. He was one of seven Gators to score at least seven points in Saturday’s game.
Vernon Macklin had 10 and three rebounds, Alex Tyus netted eight with a season-high 13 rebounds and Chandler Parsons, who played the longest at 37 minutes, had seven points, five rebounds, five assists and one block.
Coming off the bench, Patric Young made eight, four rebounds and two blocks and Erick Murphy scored seven.
Florida’s second-highest scorer of the night, Kenny Boynton, had 12 points, five assists and went 4-for-4 in at the free-throw line before spraining his left ankle in the final minutes. He was attempting a shot against Smith when he took a bad fall. He was assisted off court and taped up.
Smith and Reeves Nelson led the Bruins with 16 points apiece. Smith grabbed six rebounds and was 7-of-11 from the field; Nelson grabbed 11 rebounds and was 8-for-10 from the line.
Lee scored 14 in his 39 minutes, shooting 50% from the field, going 6-for-12 and Tyler Honeycutt managed 13 points, four assists, four blocks, three rebounds and two steals. He was 4-for-14 in field goals.
The Gators opened with a 4-0 run, with Parsons and Boynton scoring jumpers; Boynton with Parson’s assist. The Bruins tied it up 8-8 then pulled ahead 10-8 after a Honeycutt layup and from there it was mostly a one-possession game.
Young put on a show at 6:41 in the first half when he blocked Nelson’s dunk attempt at the baseline. Young followed up a few plays later with a steal from Jerime Anderson allowing him his own breakaway dunk, putting the Gators up 26-23.
UCLA fought back in its own style at 4:45 when Anthony Stover blocked Walker’s layup attempt, swatting it away. Honeycutt grabbed the defensive rebound and a foul by Murphy, scoring two free-throws and making it, yet again, a one-possession game at 28-27.
Early in the second, Macklin played it up for Florida, netting two layups nearly 30 seconds apart, while Smith and Nelson took care of business for the Bruins. Halfway through Smith and Lazeric Jones were in foul trouble, each having four apiece, but they stayed for much of the remainder.
With 32.8 left, UCLA down by one at 66-65, Honeycutt missed a 3. Lee then fouled Walker, who made both. Parsons fouled Lee who missed. Then Jones grabbed his fifth and final foul against Walker who once again added two for Florida. And Nelson couldn’t land his 3 with 15 seconds left, down 73-65, and Florida held onto the rebound.
The Gators head to New Orleans to play #3 BYU in the Sweet 16.