The basketball equivalent of a feeding frenzy began after the under 16-minute media time out with 14:26 to go in the first half when Billy Donovan altered the point of attack on his full court press.
“We really switched up based on who was taking the ball out of bounds,” Donovan said after 7th-ranked Florida (14-2, 3-0 SEC) scored a dominating, 72-50, win over Georgia for a school-record 25th straight win at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. “They first started taking it out with a big (6-7 Brandon Morris) and what they really did a good job of was they cleared down the floor and got organized and they were kind of playing against us three on two. When we went and trapped early, we kind of had two defenders guarding three people and he made some really good reads.”
Out of the time out, Donovan started bringing a double team as soon as the ball was inbounded to Morris. The other three Florida defenders rotated and left few openings.
Florida’s five players must have seemed like ten because Georgia turned the ball over nine times during that 10 minute stretch in which the Gators outscored the Bulldogs, 24-4. In taking that 30-10 lead the Gators forced nine Georgia turnovers and there were two stretches – one nearly eight minutes and another that lasted more than three – that the Bulldogs couldn’t buy a basket.
“What we decided to do right after the 16-minute time out we started running at him (Morris),” Donovan said. “Right when the ball started touching his hands we trapped him and that’s when we went on a 13-0 run.”
Georgia was in shell shock. The Bulldogs (8-7, 2-1 SEC) looked nothing at all like the team that went into Columbia last week to knock off then 21st-ranked Missouri in overtime or the one that held serve at home last Saturday against Alabama.
“You could see it in their faces that they don’t know what to do,” Will Yeguete said after a 12-point, 6-rebound effort that was his best overall game of the season. “They were afraid of the press.”
There was reason to be afraid. When the Gators are playing with that kind of intensity on the defensive end it takes opponents completely out of their game plan and leaves them looking for answers.
Georgia coach Mark Fox felt the answers were between the Bulldogs’ ears.
“When you play like boys in a man’s game, you’ve got to be tougher than we were tonight; there’s no way around it,” Fox said.
Florida was indeed tough and the Gators were active, getting hands on every loose ball, tipping rebounds to teammates, knocking the ball away from dribblers and forcing lob passes over long arms.
This was Florida’s best stretch of intense defense all season and it lasted a half.
Then things changed.
It was 36-16 at the intermission and after starting well to take a 42-21 lead, it was Florida’s turn to play like boys in the man’s game. The Gators let Georgia creep back into the game because they couldn’t sustain the defensive intensity and they couldn’t knock down shots.
Georgia sliced Florida’s lead down to 14 on a little two-foot bank shot by Marcus Thornton with 11:37 to go. At that point Georgia seemed to have all the momentum, but Florida was merely catching its second wind.
Another frenzy was about to begin, this one on the offensive end.
Free throws extended Florida to a 49-32 lead when Michael Frazier regained confidence in his shot. He was 1-8 on 3-pointers up until that moment and he got an earful from Donovan in the huddle.
Donovan didn’t want Frazier to shy away from shooting the ball. If he was open, Donovan wanted him to fire away.
“I called time out and went after him and DeVon Walker pretty hard there because I thought we passed up some shots,” Donovan said.
That’s a problem at times for Frazier, who says he wants to be a team player willing to give the ball up to a teammate who has an open look. But, under orders to launch if he was open, Frazier let fly with two consecutive 3-pointers. That got Kasey Hill going. Hill knocked down his first 3-pointer since he hit two against Fresno State before Christmas. Then Frazier got another one followed by a Dorian Finney-Smith 3-pointer.
The lead ballooned to 31, 70-39, just like that.
“He (Frazier) was 5-12 [from the 3-point line] and at one point he was one for whatever and he closes out great,” Donovan said. “He’s got a responsibility to himself and his team that he’s got to shoot the ball with confidence. He’s got to do that.”
When Frazier shoots with confidence, Florida’s offense opens up. The defense has to stretch to the perimeter to find Frazier and that leaves gaps for other shooters.
It also leaves the middle open for Patric Young, Yeguete and Finney-Smith but the Gators understand that what they do offensively has its origins on the defensive end.
Explaining what happens when the Gators drop the defensive hammer on an opponent, Finney-Smith said, “You get easy layups, you get wide open threes, you get dunks and you get the crowd into it.”
It is all about sustaining the intensity, something that’s difficult now because of the injury situation. Casey Prather, Florida’s leading scorer and one of the Gators’ better press defenders, sat for a second straight game with a swollen knee. Scottie Wilbekin, who scored seven points and dished out five assists without committing a turnover, had to leave the game three times – once in the first half, twice in the second – to get some treatment on an ankle. Young is playing on sore knees and Yeguete had to take Sunday off and half of Monday’s practice because he was exhausted.
“The hardest part of trying to do what we’re trying to do is sustain that kind of intensity for 40 minutes especially when you’ve got some injuries and you’ve got some guys absorbing too many minutes,” Donovan said. “That’s the hardest part, Can you sustain that intensity, that focus that effort that energy coming out of the locker room? For a lot of teams that’s hard.”
GAME NOTES: Florida held Georgia to 33% from the field and limited the Bulldogs to 3-9 from the 3-point line. Georgia’s final 11 points came against an emptied Florida bench that included three walk-ons … Frazier led the Gators with 21 points while Finney-Smith had 14, Yeguete 12 and Young 10 … Florida shot 25-54 from the field, 11-26 from the 3-point line … The Gators had 18 assists and only eight turnovers.