After seeing Arkansas blow out Alabama it was obvious the Gators would not have an easy time with the Razorbacks Tuesday night. After seeing the Hogs in person I can tell you this team will be tough to beat all year long. In many ways Arkansas reminds me of the Gators of last season in many ways. Like last year’s Gators, the Razorbacks entered this season unranked with modest expectations.
Like Florida, Arkansas was replacing three key players from a year ago. And just like the Gators, The Hogs are a more balanced, more athletic and more dangerous team.
Arkansas stole another page out of the Florida text book; using blocked shots to intimidate opposing shooters and create fast break opportunities. They blocked five Gators shots in Tuesday’s game and four of them led to easy baskets. They maintained scoring balance with four guys in double figures including forward Darian Townes who scored a game high 18 points and grabbed ten rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench. Physical point guard Gary Ervin was also strong with eleven points, five rebounds and nine assists. Still when all was said and done, Florida did enough to claim a 79-72 win to improve to 15-and-2 on the year, 2-and-0 in the SEC.
Very Streaky Night in the O’Dome
This was a game that kind of drove you nuts between the excessive officiating and the alternating scoring runs the teams took turns having. First, let’s look at the guys in the striped shirts. This was not a one-sided game as far as that goes, but it was by far the poorest whistle of the year. You know they are calling too much when my 78-year-old Mother-in-Law who is reluctant to criticize anyone starts booing! 45 fouls were called and I would say half were of the “ticky-tack” variety. Yet many very physical plays were ignored.
Be that as it may only Jim Stafford (singer of “The Streak”) could have enjoyed it. Florida shot out to an 18-6 lead before Arkansas scored eight straight. After Florida got the lead up to seven late in the half, Arkansas scored the final six points before intermission to make it 37-36 at halftime.
The second half saw more of the same. Florida opened up with a 13-4 run to go up 50-40, only to see Arkansas go on a 14-3 stretch to grab its first (and only) lead of the night at 54-53 with 10:30 to play. Not to be outdone, the Gators found one more run in them, outscored Arkansas 15-4 over the next 6:13 to lead 68-58. Florida’s lead never went below six the rest of the way.
Gators Win with Balance, Bench
Florida once again put all five starters in double figures led by Taurean Green with 17 and Corey Brewer with 13. Joakim Noah and Lee Humphrey each added eleven and Al Horford finished with ten. Each starter had at least two assists and four of them had three rebounds or more.
But maybe the most positive thing about this game was the improved play off the bench. Florida’s reserves were simply awful in the Georgia game, but this time the Gators got major contributions. Chris Richard and Marrisse Speights each had four points and five rebounds. Dan Werner scored four and Walter Hodge produced five more. The four guys off the bench combined for 17 points and 13 rebounds in 46 minutes of action. Those points were crucial especially in the first half when Horford and Noah combined to play just 14 minutes because of foul trouble.
Free Throw Troubles Continue
Once again the Gators were mediocre at the free throw line, helping to keep Arkansas close, especially in the first half. The Gators made just four of nine at the charity stripe in the first 20 minutes. The second half was a little better, emphasis on little as the Gators made 13 of 20. Three times the Gators missed the front end of one-and-one chances, in essence costing themselves three more points in addition to the twelve misses.
There’s no much you can do about it. You practice more or you practice less. You create practice games and challenges, but the bottom line is about concentration and focus. Florida struggled with free throw shooting early last year but was great at the line when it mattered most. Odds are, it’ll turn out pretty much the same way this season, but you never know.