Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
ATHENS, Ga. -- Over and over and over the past few days, Florida coach Billy Donovan told his team -- promised it, actually -- that Wednesday night's game at Georgia was going to be drastically different than when the Gators ripped the Bulldogs by 33 just two weeks earlier.
Donovan told his players to put themselves in Georgia's place and think about how they would react to a second crack against a highly ranked, hotshot opponent paying a visit to their gym with those ugly images of that embarrassment only 14 days old.
"He told us they were going to come out and play harder than us ... and they did," senior forward Erik Murphy said. "Then he told us we had to pick it up in the second half ... and we did."
There's a reason the guy's won 400-plus games.
Down by nine early and by three at halftime, the eighth-ranked Gators found a second-half second wind and blew past the Bulldogs on the way to a 64-47 victory before a Stegeman Coliseum crowd of 6,793, a huge chunk of which was wearing (and cheering) orange and blue.
Junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin kept his sluggish teammates in the game by scoring 13 of his career high-tying 17 points in the first half. Out of the locker room, though, it was Murphy and senior guard Kenny Boynton combining to make five of their seven 3-point shots, UF scoring 21 of the second period's first 25 points and the Gators (15-2, 5-0) throwing water on the hot-shooting Bulldogs (7-11, 1-4) for a seventh straight win.
Boynton finished with 14 points. Murphy, held scoreless in the first half, checked in with 13. Junior forward Will Yeguete came off the bench to score seven points, grab a game-high 11 rebounds, pull off four steals and help lead a defensive charge that limited the Dawgs to just six second-half field goals at 31.6-percent shooting.
UF is unbeaten through five SEC games for only the fourth time in school history, with its margin of victory in those wins -- which actually dropped with the 17-point outcome -- now at 24.8 points.
This one marked the toughest conference test to date.
"We knew they were going to come out with a lot of passion and play hard," said Wilbekin, who went 7-for-9 from the floor, including 2-for-3 from the arc, to go with three assists. "I don't think we did a good job of handling it in the first half, but in the second half we were more focused and able to deal with them."
Georgia had won three of the previous four in the series on its home floor and set out with the look of team ready to make it four of five.
The Bulldogs scored the game's first six points, jumped to an 11-2 lead, and eight minutes into the game had as many points (15) as they had in the entire first half of UF's 77-44 thrashing in Gainesville on Jan. 9. Florida, in fact, was fortunate to be hanging around, thanks to forcing nine first-half turnovers that led to nine points.
The score was tied at 21 when UGA forward Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (16 points, 7 rebounds) swished a 3-pointer from 28 feet at the first-half buzzer to give the Bulldogs a 27-24 lead.
For the half, Georgia shot 50 percent from the floor and 54.5 (6-for-11) from the arc against the Southeastern Conference's No. 1 scoring and defensive field-goal percentage team, albeit with Murphy (8 minutes) and center Patric Young (12 minutes) saddled with two fouls.
UF, meanwhile, was shooting at 40.7 clip and bricked eight of nine treys (11.1 percent).
"Some things just didn't go well for us in the first half," Donovan said.
"Sometimes you don't hit shots," Murphy said.
Things changed after intermission.
Wilbekin opened the second half with a 3-pointer to tie the game. Then Mike Rosario hit another from the corner. And then Young followed a Wilbekin driving rimmer with a slam-dunk.
Just like that, the Gators were up five and Georgia had turned it over on three straight possessions. It was the start of a 21-4 run that turned a 3-point deficit at the break into a 45-31 edge nearly 11 minutes into the second half. By the time Georgia scored its 13th point of the second half, Murphy had 13 of his own.
"Shots started to fall for us," Murphy said.
And stopped falling for the Bulldogs. A lot of the ones they got in the first half just weren't there in the second.
"A tale of two halves," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "We didn't start the second half well at all. We just couldn't stabilize our defense and couldn't find a way to get stops in the second half."
Or the same shots they were getting before the break. UF fixed that.
"We had some defensive lapses in the first half," Boynton said. "Especially around the 3-point line."
In the second half, UF extended its defense toward the distance marker. Georgia may have managed to hit a sizzling 100 percent from the arc, but on 1-for-1 shooting. Caldwell-Pope hit a meaningless trey with 2:20 to go and Florida leading by 19.
That was it.
"I knew it was going to be a grind-it-out, physical game," Donovan said. "I give our guys credit. We made some adjustments."
Overcame some adversity along the way, too. On the road. In the SEC. Those wins should never been taken for granted.
Certainly never assumed.