Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Four minutes into Saturday’s game, Dorian Finney-Smith checked into his first college basketball in 20 months. Florida’s 6-foot-8 forward and transfer from Virginia Tech had that look about him.
“You could see how ready he was,” UF freshman point guard Kasey Hill said. “You could see it in his face, see it in his eyes.”
Oh, the kid they call “DoeDoe” was ready, all right. Much readier, it seemed, than his Florida teammates. Together, the 11th-ranked Gators fiddled around with Arkansas-Little Rock for a little more than a half before unleashing a wave of full-court pressure that flattened the Trojans on the way to an 86-56 win before 8,843 at the O’Connell Center.
Senior forward Casey Prather was sensational in scoring 27 points, hitting 10 of his 11 shots, to go with five rebounds and five assists. Finney-Smith, suspended for the season’s first two games and in bed with a virus the previous three days, sparked the Gators (2-1) with 17 points, nine rebounds and 3-for-4 shooting from the arc. Hill added 14 points, plus six assists and no turnovers.
But it was the UF team -- collectively -- that awoke from a 27-all halftime tie and attacked the Trojans (0-2) with a wicked press three minutes into the second half and completely took over the game’s pace.
From very methodical (the UALR way) to totally chaotic (the UF way).
“I didn’t like how they’re walking the ball down the floor and utilizing the clock,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought if we could score and be disruptive and force them to play quicker that would be the way to go.”
Enter four fresh bodies, including walk-on forward Jake Kurtz, who played zero minutes in the first half. Immediately there was a spark; an uptick in pace and intensity.
Over the final 17 minutes, Florida outscored Arkansas-Little Rock 51-25, shot 58 percent from the floor, out-rebounded the Trojans by 10, forced eight turnovers and eventually emptied the bench. Of UF's 59 second-half points, Prather had 21 of them, including a handful in transition, where the Gators clearly excel and clearly got deeper with the addition of the 6-foot-8, 212-pound Finney-Smith.
“Coach D said to just go out and turn it up on ‘em,” Hill said. “So we went out and were aggressive on defense and pushed the lead out.”
“We got beat on the 50-50 plays in the second half, got beat on loose balls and got beat to the glass,” UALR coach Steve Shields said. “We didn’t handle their pressure the way we needed to.”
Give credit to Kurtz (3-for-3 from the floor, 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal in 12 minutes) for giving the Gators an extra lift of want-to off the bench. The sight of Kurtz spilling across the floor for a rebound and out-letting the ball from his back was an inspiring one for his teammates.
Or as UF director of basketball operations Darren Hertz suggested afterward, “Subway Sub of the Game.”
A nominee, for sure.
But were there such an honor, it would have gone to Finney-Smith. The flame he lit for the Gators under the glass and from the arc was much-needed for a team lacking in energy and, yes, scoring punch the first two games.
Smith was 5-for-10 from the floor and showed his length, ranginess and aggression in skying for those team-high nine rebounds in just 16 (albeit super-active) minutes
“I enjoyed myself out there,” Finney-Smith said. “I knew I had to come out and play with a lot of passion and fight. It would have been wrong for me to not come out with energy.”
That was after dealing with a sore throat and achy body, courtesy of the virus he battled the last few days.
Then there were butterflies that were a year and a half in the making.
“I really didn’t know what to expect. He hadn’t picked up a ball since Monday," Donovan said. "He really moved the basketball and made the extra pass. Because he can shoot it, put it on the floor and pass, he opens up a lot of things for our guys."
Finney-Smith certainly alters the Gators from what they looked like through the first two games of the season.
“I was so excited to see him play, but he didn’t really get to show all the dunks and stuff he can do,” Prather said. “Once he’s back 100 percent, it’s really going to be exciting.”
“I’m going home and going to bed,” said Finney-Smith, knowing the Gators have a quick turn-around to Monday night’s home game against Southern. “I need to rest, but I can’t wait to practice again.”
Imagine what kind of player Finney-Smith will be when he can actually practice. Imagine, also, what kind of team the Gators will have when senior guard Scottie Wilbekin returns from his suspension; and assuming junior center Damontre Harris, the South Carolina transfer also suspended, works his way back in the coach’s good graces.
That’s a lot of guys for Donovan to work with. That’s a lot of guys for opponents to deal with.