This Gator basketball team just knows. They know how to face down the toughest environments like Rupp Arena. They know how to face down a 7-point deficit as single digits approach on the clock against a more athletic and supposedly NBA-loaded opponent like Kentucky Saturday. They know how to play through home cooked officiating and bad shooting nights without letting anything distract them from their assignments and their purpose. They know how to focus when the clock starts to run out of minutes. They know how to win. They just know how to win.
Some numbers that jumped out at me in the Kentucky game:
Casey Prather: 24 points
Scottie Wilbekin: 23 points
Rest of team 22 points
That is a very atypical scoring distribution for a team of such balance. Prather and Wilbekin each scoring a drop over a third of the team’s points is a far cry from the season overall, wherein four starters share between 15% and 22% of the scoring and even the sixth man contributes 13% off the bench. But this just serves to demonstrate that these Gators have many ways to beat you and no matter what the opponent’s strength or what they throw at them, they simply find a way to get it done.
This team just knows how to win. If it seems like every game is the same, it is because they practically are. Whether Florida is playing great or struggling, when that 5:00 mark comes around, they simply lock that business DOWN. Cold as ice. In the last five minutes of the game, this team is like a python. Every possession they squeeze a little more out of the opponent on offense and defense and they don’t give it back. Another possession, another Gator steal, another squeeze of the python’s coils. Another possession, another tough Gator-manufactured 3-point play in the paint or a clutch three from beyond the arc, another squeeze. The opponent’s chest gets tight, they brick another contested shot, bones crackle, they throw another errant pass, their throat closes, and when the buzzer sounds: GULPED YA!
If the Gators break through that Elite Eight ceiling and re-discover the Final Four, and if they are able to recreate that national title magic of a few years past, it will be this ability to laser focus and squeeze the game into a win time and time again.
Let’s Go Streaking!!!
Thankfully that was the Gator team streaking through the record books this week, and not Frank the Tank streaking through the quad. There were so many streaks being extended and broken – all in Florida’s favor – that it bears tallying them up to savor their true significance. And see if you can spot a common central theme. Here is the list of the biggies:
- Florida tied a school record for consecutive wins with 17-straight, the fourth time it has reached this streak in program history. The last two times the Gators tied this record, they won the national title.
- Florida’s twelfth-straight SEC win broke the school record of consecutive conference wins to start a season, set in the second national title season of 2007.
- The Gators broke John Calipari’s record of 11-0 against ranked opponents at Rupp.
- UF snapped Kentucky’s streak of 22-straight home wins, which was the second time this year that the Gators broke a 20+ home winning streak in an SEC opponent’s home gym (after also breaking Arkansas’s 25-game home winning streak earlier this year).
- This win broke the Gators’ losing streak at Rupp Arena, which was at 6-straight losses (the last win in Lexington came in 2007 in their second national title-winning season).
- Winning at Knoxville and at Lexington in the same season has only been done twice in program history, and not since the decade of the eighties (1985 and 1988), and they did it in consecutive games (which was only done once, in 1988).
- Saturday was UF’s 6th appearance on ESPN College Gameday, improving their record in the nationally-featured showcase to 5-1. Five of those games were against Kentucky, and Florida won all five. The Gators’ first two appearances on ESPN College Gameday were in 2006 and 2007, one in front of the O’Dome and the next one shot on the roof of Rupp. Both were wins over Kentucky, and both were preludes to national titles in March Madness.
The Best Gator Team?
The question is sure to be brought up in the media, as it already has among Gator fans. If Florida beats Auburn on Wednesday night, it will set a new school record for consecutive wins and extend its record of consecutive SEC wins to start a conference schedule. Both national title Gator teams share the 17-win streak and the 2007 national title team held the previous record for consecutive league victories. When and if they surpass those two teams that won it all, the question will start to emerge. Is this the best team in Florida history? Heck even after the Gators won two consecutive national crowns, Donovan evaded that question, emphasizing that it was the best group of Gators playing as a team – in the very clinical definition of the term – but would not branch out any further as to how they stacked up talent-wise to former Gator squads or other NCAA championship squads for that matter.
But we’re not the head coach. We can speculate on these things. Wildly if need be.
I don’t and really can’t weigh teams based on the NBA draft, so while that measure would make this no contest in favor of the 2006 and 2007 teams, it has no bearing on my opinions. From the 2000 Gator team, Donnell Harvey was a first round selection and Udonis Haslem was undrafted. UD was a much better college player and has had an excellent NBA career while Harvey was lucky to hang on with 4 NBA teams over four years. There are far more examples but that is one of the clearest ones.
So let’s look at the roster comparisons. When you put the ’07 team up against this year’s squad, to this point I can’t see ’07 losing out. The 2014 team has a better bench, with Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, DeVon Walker and Chris Walker over Chris Richard, Walter Hodge, Marreese Speights and Dan Werner (the latter two when they were nowhere-near-ready-for-prime-time freshmen).
Prather may be close to an equal to Corey Brewer. Casey may be better near the basket, while Corey was definitely better away from the basket. Scottie Wilbekin probably gets the edge over Taurean Green for his total game (defense helping him get the edge) and the senior Lee Humphrey probably gets the nod over the sophomore Michael Frazier III because of his clutch 3 being more reliable. They are all up for argument, but give or take a little here or there, I think overall those three positions can be seen as a push. That leaves Patric Young and Will Yeguete facing Joakim Noah and Al Horford to make the call for which is/was the better team. I don’t think there have been two players as good as Jo and Al on the same team anywhere – let alone in Gainesville – for many, many years. With all Y & Y bring to the court each night, Noah and Horfie were and are special players on another level.
Why Gator Fans Are So…Confident
Yes, let’s say “confident”, and not the other word starting with the same letter. Sounds better that way. But however you say it, Gator fans have just too much to brag about not to walk with a bounce in their step. Especially when the spring sports get into full swing. To wrap up this column, here is a little wrap up of the highlights of the past week in Gator sports. Pretty much just ridiculous the riches we have to celebrate in Gainesville.
- Women’s basketball (last Sunday) started the week off right by beating then-#13UK 86-80, pushing the record to 17-7. In sweeping the season series against a ranked opponent, the basketball notched a true rarity for the program that is clearly and finally on the rise.
- The #20-ranked baseball team went 2-1 against Maryland to open season, a fine start to a season primed to rebound big from last year’s anomaly of a losing record.
- The then-#3 Men’s basketball won at Tennessee 67-58, and at #14UK 69-59 to push their record to 23-2/12-0, positioned not only for an early SEC title clinch but on track for a number-1 seed in March Madness. Because with #2 Arizona losing, if not for NC State handing the ball to #1 Syracuse twice to end their game Saturday, the Gators may be #1 in the nation right now.
- The #1-ranked Gators Gymnastics squad beat Arkansas 197.525-196.025 to improve to 6-0 on the year in defense of their first national title. Kytra Hunter punctuated the victory by nailing a perfect 10 on vault in the Gators’ first rotation of the meet, as the Gators swept every event title.
- The #8 Lacrosse team beat Jacksonville 21-5 and High Point 18-7, starting the season 2-1. Against High Point, midfielder Shannon Gilroy either set or tied three program records with 10 draw controls, eight goals and 13 shots. She was named the American Lacrosse Conference Offensive Player of the Week, leading the team with15 goals and 16 draw controls for the week.
- Gator Softball swept the Easton Desert Classic in Las Vegas by beating Seattle, Hawaii, Ohio State, CS-Northridge & Minnesota by combined scores of 59-6. In the tourney, HHHannah Rodgers collected her 100th career win with a 1-hitter, adding a 4-hitter earlier in the tourney. Meanwhile Lauren Haeger threw a 2-hitter after tossing a no-hitter in her previous start, while batting .533 with four home runs, earning her SEC Player of the Week. Gator pitchers have given up an average of just three hits per game in the 5 games of the tourney after surrendering just 3.2 runs per game in the preceding 5-game Wilson-DeMarini Tournament in Tampa. The Gators have given up 3.5 *hits* per game this season while scoring 9 *runs* per contest. This was enough to propel the Gators to the #1 ranking in the nation.
- The #2-ranked women’s tennis opens their season Tuesday against FSU. The Lady Gators have only won the national title two of the last three years. Should be another banner year.