In the first half, some Florida faithful probably thought the Gators might be doomed to repeat their pre-Christmas letdown last year, a 67-61 loss to Kansas State.
Luckily, though, members of the Gator Nation can wake up on Christmas morning with smiles on their faces, as #16 Florida (9-2) rode a strong second half performance to a 66-49 win over Fresno State (6-6) in the Orange Bowl Classic.
Both teams started out extremely slow in the first 20 minutes. Florida was held to 29 percent shooting and made a measly one out of 13 three-pointers. Senior forward Casey Prather, who was voted MVP, owned almost a fourth of Florida’s points with eight. The Gators headed into the locker room up 23-19.
Florida turned it around in the second half, starting with a 15-4 run which allowed them to finally pull away from the Bulldogs. UF ended up scoring 30 points — eight of those, again, were Prather’s. The increased production in scoring led to a shooting percentage of 58 that half, making it 42 for the entire game.
One thing Florida did consistently well was rebound, outdoing Fresno State 47-24. Senior forward Will Yeguete led with five of Florida’s 20 offensive rebounds, and a total of 10, a season-high for him. Senior center Patric Young (who did not start as reported due to knee pain) had nine.
It proved to be a tough night for the Bulldogs, who entered the game averaging 76.2 points per game. They shot 32 percent, including 4 of 17 three-pointers, and fell to 1-5 on the road this season. Sophomore guards Marvelle Harris and Cezar Guerrero and freshman forward Paul Watson combined for 37 points, but the bench only contributed four.
Florida will return home to face Savannah State (2-10) next. Tip-off is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 29.