Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After pummeling a trio of Southeastern Conference opponents, this one -- Missouri and its sterling point guard Saturday at the sold-out O’Connell Center -- loomed as the biggest conference test to date for Florida Gators.
It turned out be the biggest blowout.
Less than 48 hours removed from their last dominating performance, the 10th-ranked Gators glued themselves to the 17th-ranked and SEC rookie Tigers for 40 minutes of dazzling defensive basketball that produced an 83-52 drubbing the likes of which the 12,597 at the O’Dome could not have seen coming.
Junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin scored 13 points, tied his career high with 10 assists and got into the jersey of Tigers point guard Phil Pressey, helping force the league’s preseason SEC Player of the Year into a 1-for-7 shooting afternoon (including 0-for-4 from the arc) and a career-worst 10 turnovers.
Following Wilbekin’s lead, the Gators (14-2, 4-0) held the Tigers to 32.7 shooting for the game and scored 34 points off 21 turnovers.
The Florida defensive effort followed Thursday’s road win at Texas A&M, where the Gators held the Aggies to 34 percent and Wilbekin stifled forward Elston Turner into a frustrating 1-for-10 night in the follow-up to his 40-point outburst and upset of defending national champion Kentucky.
“It all starts with Scottie ... and we go from there,” UF junior forward Will Yeguete said.
On both ends, apparently.
Senior forward Erik Murphy scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds, with guard and classmate Kenny Boynton chipping in 14 more. Together, Murphy and Boynton went 12 of 22 from the floor and 5-for-11 from the 3-point line and the Gators bombed the Tigers (13-4, 2-2) for 59.3 percent overall and 44.4 percent from the arc.
In four SEC games, the Gators’ average margin of victory is 26.7 points.
“I thought coming into the season we had a chance to be really, really good defensively,” UF coach Billy Donovan said.
As opposed to very good offensively, which the Gators also have managed to be in winning six straight now.
Florida scored the first 11 points of the game and led 19-5 inside 14 minutes with eight of their first nine field goals coming on layups, most in transition following Tigers turnovers that fired up the O’Dome’s largest crowd in nearly two years.
“That was really crucial,” Wilbekin said. “They might have been a little shocked.”
The combination of the defensive and fan energy really never subsided, thus leading to some easy (and exciting) baskets, be it Boynton 3s, Wilbekin dishes and Patrick Young dunks.
The Florida lead reached 22 in the first half, never fell below 16 in the second, and swelled to as high as 34 in the final minute.
“Anytime you can get off to a good start offensively it allows you to do different things defensively,” said Donovan, who claimed his 400th victory at UF -- the third-most in SEC history -- since taking over the program in 1996. “We were able to press some, able to fall back when we wanted to. We were able to do different alignments in the full court, and I thought some of those turnovers got us out in transition.”
Try 34 points off those 21 turnovers.
And how 'bout a 30-19 edge on the glass? Missouri came into the game leading the SEC in rebounding margin at plus-10.3 per game, but were handicapped with 6-foot-8, 227-pound senior forward Laurence Bowers (16.8 points, 6.9 rebounds per game) sidelined with a sprained knee. Florida, though, was minus forward and key reserve Casey Prather and still played its finest wire-to-wire game of the season.
“I feel like we’re making a great statement,” senior guard Mike Rosario, who added nine points and three assists. “We’re showing how committed we are on the defensive end, but also how connected we are. We love playing with each other and we’re all playing for something. We want to win a conference championship.”
It’s early, but the way the Gators are playing now is certainly how you win one.
“They beat us in every facet of the game,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said after the Tigers’ most lopsided loss in almost five years. “They’re so very sound defensively. They closed down driving lanes, they did a great job of limiting you to one shot and they’re a great block-out team. Billy’s done a great job of getting those guys to buy in on defense.”
On the other end, all five UF starters shot no worse than 50 percent from the floor, with Wilbekin making six of his eight field-goal tries and Yeguete (13 points, 6 rebounds) going 6-for-7 from the floor.
“What a great team win for us,” Young said. “I know no one expected us to do that.”
Maybe not, but as long as the Gators play the brand of defense they are right now, they can play with anyone.