Fast and Physical.
Head football coach Will Muschamp is always preaching to his defense to play fast and physical. Today it was Billy Donovan’s defense that played that way as the Gators overwhelmed the Missouri Tigers 83-52 in the O’Connell Center giving Donovan his 400th career victory at Florida.
The Gators (14-2, 4-0), energized by a rocking, sold-out O’Dome crowd and a national ESPN audience, opened fast with a 15-2 run and never took their foot off the gas pedal leaving the Tigers, playing without leading scorer Laurence Bowers for the third consecutive game, battered and humbled wondering what just took place.
After the game, college basketball analyst Jay Bilas proclaimed,
“The performance of the day was down in Gainesville. Florida was phenomenal both offensively & defensively.”
Adding, “I think Florida’s the real thing.”
If they’re not the real thing, well, scratch that, they ARE the real thing. Especially when they get off to a fast start.
“You always want to get out to a good start,” Donovan said. “It happened to get off to a good start for us. I thought we played pretty well. Again, any time you can get off to a good start offensively it allows you to do different things defensively. We were able to press some, we were able to fall back when we wanted to. We were able to do different things with alignments in the full court.”
The Gators are the complete package right now. Offensive balance inside/out and up and down the lineup. Defensive quickness, agility, and tenacity. The offensive balance, four guys average in double figures, goes beyond the scoring averages though and extends to their patience, ball movement, and passing skills. The Gators can score inside and outside and from any position on the floor regardless of who is playing. Defensively, they are active, agile, and disruptive. Their ball movement is supreme putting extreme pressure on an opponent to defend the entire possession. Their passing skills particularly in the lane are superior and that extends up and down the lineup.
Today they were led by power forward Erik Murphy who had 15 points and 5 rebounds and Kenny Boynton with 14 points. 3 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Scottie Wilbekin was the star of the game, however, for the Gators finishing with 13 points, 3 rebounds, and a game high 10 assists for his first career double-double. But, perhaps it was his defense, and realistically the Gator defense as a whole, on Missouri star point guard Phil Pressey that stole the show. The Gators forced him into 10 turnovers individually and created 21 overall which led to 34 Gator points often on fast breaks and alley oops and helped to overcome their own ball-handling mistakes.
“I thought some of the turnovers helped us get out in transition,” said Donovan. “The unfortunate part for us in the first half is we turned them over twelve times, we turned it over eleven times ourselves. So it was kind of a wash. And we probably could have gained a little more out of that, but they did a good job creating some turnovers, and we probably did a good job, as well, creating them on them.”
Small forward Will Yeguete, still playing through the pain of tendinitis in his knee, had another solid effort for the Gators finishing with 13 points and 6 rebounds while Patric Young had 9 points and 8 rebounds. Murphy was on fire hitting 6-11 shots from the field and 3-5 from three point range.
The Gators shot a blistering 59% (35-59) from the field including 42% (8-19) from outside the arc while holding the Tigers to a paltry 32% (16-49) shooting overall and 25% (6-34) from three. Everyone in the lineup shot 50% or better from the field. Additionally, the Gators had 11 steals and 7 blocked shots, including three by Patric Young and 2 by Erik Murphy.
The Tigers were led by Jabari Brown who finished with 16 points and Keion Bell who had scored 14. Starting point guard Phil Pressey, the engine that drives the Mizzou offense, was held to 2 points on 1-7 shooting with 6 assists and 10 turnovers. Scottie Wilbekin gets credit for hounding Pressey all night forcing him into turnovers but Donovan credited the entire defense for the performance.
“Pressey, to me, is a guy that you can put the ball in his hands and he plays in space. there’s not like a pattern, he’s just making a play,” coach Donovan said after the game. “Our bigs, for the most part, did a good job of at least trying to keep him out of the lane.”
“I thought collectively Scottie did a good job on the ball on him, but the big that was in the pick and roll did a really good job, and I thought our backside coverage (was good). Now was it perfect everytime? No, but we did a pretty good job for most of the game.”
The Gators outrebounded the Tigers, who came into the game leading the nation averaging 43 rebounds per game, 30-19 as they crashed the boards efficiently and effectively in this game. Realistically, the Gators showed complete domination in every facet of the game and, coming off a huge 21 point win over Texas A&M a short one day and a half earlier, made it clear they are the class of the SEC. They also made a case for being one of the top teams in the country before a national audience. They have won all four of their conference games by 21 points or more.
The energy of the crowd and the passion of the players helped to make Donovan’s 400th Gator victory very special. He wasn’t overly nostalgic, though, after the game deflecting praise and deferring to the players he’s coached over the years.
“It’s always special when you have friends or family, your players and crowd,” according to Donovan. “:Like I said before, all those individual things when it relates to coaching, it’s much, much more a reflection on the players I’ve had a chance to coach here. That’s really what’s its about.”
“For me to be here, and to be apart of 400 wins, and I don’t look at them as my wins, I look at them as University of Florida wins. Just seeing even Jason Williams who’s here today watching the game, you know he’s part of that too. There’s a lot of guys who were not in the building that were a part of it. I never, ever look at those things as being something I did. It’s always a ‘we’ thing.”
It was certainly a “we” thing today as the Rowdie Reptiles and a packed audience were loud and proud from start to finish as the Gators move to 4-0 in the SEC on the season. Next up for the Gators is a a trip to Athens to take on eastern division rival Georgia on Wednesday night. The Gators beat them 77-44 in Gainesville on January 9 in similar fashion to what they did today against Missouri, fast and physical. Tip off is scheduled for 8 pm eastern and will be broadcast on the SEC network.