Wednesday December 5, 2012Gators Improve to 7-0 with Blowout Win at Florida State
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- So, about this non-conference schedule that was supposed to be so challenging. You know, the one the Florida Gators have now dismantled by crushing their first seven opponents by an average of 25-plus points per game.
Yeah, that one.
"We don't know how good these teams we've played are yet," junior guard Scottie Wilbekin said Wednesday after the No. 6/5 Gators unleashed the latest round of carnage on rival and reigning Atlantic Coast Conference champion Florida State. "We don't really even know how good we are yet."
Then Wilbekin cocked a little smile.
"But what I do know is that we play great defense."
The Seminoles know too after being bludgeoned 72-47 at home before 10,593 at the Tucker Center, a crowd that witnessed the most lopsided defeat in the 61-year-old series among games played in the state capital, not to mention UF's biggest blowout of FSU since a 35-point rout in Gainesville in 1999.
Senior guards Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton scored 14 points each, while junior center Patric Young added 10 points and eight rebounds. Freshman guard Michael Frazier threw in 12 points (on 4-for-5 shooting), all in the second half, as the Gators (7-0) hit 48 percent from the floor for the game.
What the Seminoles (4-4) shot -- a woeful 34.8 percent, including 25 percent in the first half -- was the number that really stood out, except for the fact that no one has shot well against a UF defense that came into the game ranked second nationally in scoring (44.5 points per game) and ninth in field-goal percentage allowed (35 percent).
"The preparation we do and the concentration we have at practice on the defensive end, I'm telling you, it's special," Rosario said. "We know we can be a really, really, really good defensive team, so we try to focus on that aspect and stay locked in on what's at stake."
It's across-the-board defense, too.
UF out-rebounded FSU 34-26, forced 22 turnovers that led to 32 points, rang up 14 steals and limited the Seminoles to just 7-for-23 shooting from the 3-point line.
"We were locked in and set the tone for the beginning," Rosario said. "Plus, after what the football team did up here, we knew what we had to do -- otherwise we would've heard about it from those guys."
FSU scored 15 points in the first half, making just five of 20 shot, and actually had eight more turnovers (13) than field goals through those 20 minutes, as the Gators raced to a 35-15 lead at the break.
It was only three days earlier the Seminoles (4-4) lost at home to tiny Mercer. UF coach Billy Donovan spent the ensuing three days trying to convince his players they could lose the game.
Evidently, he did a great sales job.
"We kind of put ourselves in their position and asked ourselves, 'If you lost to Mercer, what would you do?' " said Boynton, who passed Stacey Poole (1,678 points) to move into fifth place on the UF all-time scoring list with 1,690 points. "So our goal was to just overmatch their intensity from the start."
In doing so, the Gators matched the defensive intensity they showed in an 18-point wipeout of Wisconsin, a 21-point blitz of Middle Tennessee State and last week's 33-point vaporizing of Marquette in a rematch of their Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament game of last March.
At one point, Florida led Florida State by 37.
"We just have to keep working and listening to Coach Donovan," Young said. "When we listen to Coach, we come out with great energy and passion."
The opponents are starting to notice. Last week, Marquette coach Buzz Williams took the worst loss of his career and said afterward the Gators were good enough to win the whole thing.
This from Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton: "We ran into one of the better teams I've played since I've been at Florida State."
To date, the closest game Florida has played this season was a 79-66 defeat of UCF.
"As much as I'm happy and proud of what happened, I still think we can improve," Donovan said.
That's good because next up for the Gators -- after a 10-day layoff for exams -- is a showdown at Arizona, currently unbeaten and ranked eighth in the country.
"It's about passion and intensity, bringing it every night," Rosario said.
UF started with it, jumping to a 12-2 lead barely four minutes in, weathering a seven-point FSU run, then tearing the Seminoles apart 23-6 the rest of the half, with Rosario hitting four of his five shots from the field.
Think about this: the Gators led by 20 and Boynton, their leading scorer, was 0-for-6 from the floor.
"They executed their offense until they found one of our players making a mistake and they made us pay," Hamilton said. "It was like they capitalized on every mistake we made early in the game."
Late in the game, with the Gators up by 30-plus and with leading scorer Michael Snaer (10 points, 2-for-8 from floor) struggling just to get a shot off, Hamilton turned to his assistants with a question.
"Can we really be this bad?" he asked.
Here's a different perspective: Can the Gators really be this good?
No one knows, yet.
But, yes, they do play some great defense.