Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
As if beating juggernaut Alabama, winning a Heisman Trophy and stomping Oklahoma in the Cotton Bown wasn't a stellar enough Southeastern Conference debut for the Texas A&M football program, the Aggies' basketball squad went and knocked off Kentucky at Rupp Arena last weekend.
Two reigning national champions, two victories.
So the two programs decided to join forces Thursday night, as Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel and his teammates were on hand for a maroon-and-white salute of their own, but also to pump up Reed Arena -- with fans decked in white "Rock Reed" T-shirts -- for a visit from 10th-ranked Florida and chance for the Aggies to further announce themselves on the SEC hoop scene.
"They made it out to be a big deal," UF point guard Scottie Wilbekin. "But we weren't going to let them throw a party at our expense."
The Gators, instead, crashed it like a bunch of rowdy frat boys, using a run of 18 straight points over the two halves to crush the Aggies 68-47 and spoil the festivities for the season-high crowd of 11,046.
Senior guard Mike Rosario scored 19 points, making four of seven shots from 3-point range, and junior center Patric Young threw in 18 on 7-for-9 from the floor and grabbed seven rebounds. Senior forward Erik Murphy, playing with a broken rib, was good for 16 points and seven rebounds, as Florida (13-2, 3-0) won its fifth straight to remain one of two just unbeatens (Ole Miss the other) in SEC play.
As beefy and balanced as those offensive numbers look -- UF shot 50 percent for the game and hit 10 treys -- the Gators suffocated the Aggies (12-4, 2-1) on the defensive end, led by an in-your-grill performance from Wilbekin, who was matched against A&M forward Elston Turner.
In the big win over Kentucky, Turner became just the third player in Rupp Arena history to score 40 points. Against the Wildcats, Turner's entire offensive arsenal was on display, as he hit 14 of 19 shots, including six of 10 from distance.
"My goal was to keep him below his average," Wilbekin said of Turner, who came in at a 17.1 per-game clip. "What did he end up with, anyway?"
He seriously didn't know.
Answer: 4 points on 1-for-10 from the floor, 0-for-4 from the arc.
In the bigger picture, UF held A&M to just 34-percent shooting, a season-low 49 points and just 18 in the first half. It was the fifth time this season the Gators kept an opponent under 20 points in the first half.
"I guess we have a better defense than even we even think we have," Wilbekin said.
Make that four road wins by an average of 22.2 points and three SEC wins by an average of 25.3.
"We lost to a very good team. I thought they were more physical than us at every position," A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "We played well for about 13 or 14 minutes."
Yes, things started innocently enough, with the Aggies hanging around through the under-8 media timeout, trailing just 17-16. The pace -- slow -- was very much to their liking and the Gators were lucky Rosario, who missed last Saturday's game at LSU with a sprained ankle, came out hot, scoring 11 of UF's first 13 points.
Turner's first (and only) field goal of the game came at the 5:31 mark of the first half and had the Aggies within three at 21-18.
Their next basket came at 16:16 of the second half -- 9 minutes, 31 seconds later -- after the Gators had run off 18 straight points to take a 21-point lead and smothered A&M into missing 15 consecutive field-goal attempts.
By then, Manziel and his bronze statue were long gone.
So was any residual buzz from the game's outset.
"We're just so locked in on defense right now," Young said.
Pretty diverse on offense, too.
Only once this season has a UF player (Rosario at Arizona, then against Southeastern Louisiana) led the team in scoring in back-to-back games. That balance prevents opponents from focusing on any one player, the way the Gators smothered Turner and completely negated him -- and thus the Aggies -- from any flow on offense.
"Certainly, he had a lot of people's attention with what he did [at Kentucky]," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "I just felt Scottie did a really, really good job of getting through screens and staying up on him, and our big guys did a good job of reading screens and providing help."
The scouting report pegged Turner as a guy who repeatedly went to his right. The Gators repeatedly forced him left.
"We had to wall him up as a whole team and make him take tough shots," Rosario said. "And Scottie did a great job of just being a pest and making him feel the pressure of our defense."
After the Gators opened their initial 21-point lead, it got no lower than 18 and swelled to as high as 30.
They did it without Casey Prather, a key reserve out with a high ankle sprain, with forward Will Yeguete fighting through knee swelling that required draining earlier in the week, and Rosario coming off his sore ankle.
Did it on the road, too, on what was supposed to be a really big night. For what it's worth, A&M's teams this year still have that 2-0 record against the two-time national champ in football and defending NCAA champ in basketball to trumpet.
And the Gators have now beaten both those teams.
"It's always special to win on the road. It's like you take their spirit away," Wilbekin said. "They wanted to have their party ... but so did we."