Go back to your childhood and recall the Hokey Pokey for a minute. Remember how it works? You put your right arm in, your right arm out and take care of the right arm through all of its progressions basically. Then you transfer to the left arm, so on and so forth. Eventually you’ll put your “whole self” in and voila the dance is perfected, finished, a complete product.
The Florida Gators basketball team is somewhat in the middle of that dance right now.
After struggling to come out of the gate strong and put up a productive first half then following with a comeback second half, the Gators flipped the script on Tuesday night, flying to a huge lead in the first half versus the Richmond Spiders and dominating both ends of the floor in their 76-56 win.
Florida held a 21-14 lead at the Under-8 timeout in the first half, with a point spread that was being shared amongst teammates. But more importantly, at least for this team, was the rebound differentiation. At that same timeout the Florida Gators basketball team had 17 rebounds as compared to the Spiders seven (11 total, including team and dead ball rebounds). Those rebounds, according to sophomore guard Devin Robinson, are what really got things rolling.
“It really helped us get our offense going. We knew we had to crash the boards every single time. So it really just helped our offense and helped us get a lead.”
Robinson did his part on the glass, grabbing 13 rebounds (four offensive, nine defensive) on the way to his third double double of the season so far with 12 points and 13 rebounds versus Richmond.
Devin was joined by center John Egbunu (17 points, 14 rebounds) as the two become the first Florida Gators basketball duo since Joakim Noah and Al Horford, (and only second since start of 1996-97 season) to finish a game with 12-plus points and 13-plus rebounds apiece.
In total, the Gators out rebounded Richmond 57-36, and head coach Mike White is starting to see what he knows this team is capable of.
“I haven’t been with a team this talented on the glass, offensively and defensively,” says White, “and we’re showing it.”
“Coach stressed that to us to always go rebound the 3-4 and 5 and I feel like we did that,” adds Egbunu.
“It was really huge for us, outrebounding them, because that was our primary focus going into the game and I guess we just happy to get the win, a really good team, and just happy to get the win.”
Egbunu is getting a second hand down in the paint from forward Dorian Finney-Smith, the teams go-to guy and a senior who posted 13 rebounds versus Richmond and nine points—just one shy of a double double himself and 1,000 career points.
This all led to a first half that saw the Gators hold Richmond to only 17 points, when the Spiders had been averaging over 80 per game so far this season.
It was a perfect example of what White has been asking of his team through their first six games; let your defense create your offense.
On Tuesday versus Richmond, it worked according to Finney-Smith.
“We all came out on the same page knowing this team is a great offensive team so we couldn’t let them get their rhythm cause they run their sets, so they rhythm team so once they start hitting it’s hard to slow them down so we just came out and tried to play with a lot of energy.”
This, continues DFS, is the identity White wants his team to have.
“Just a hard nosed team who get defensive rebounds, and no matter what happens on offense, we’re gonna always play defense.”
As the first half wound down, excitement was in the air, seen in guard Kasey Hill’s coast-to-coast layup off a steal that ended the half with a near buzzer beater—“I just seen like 5 seconds left and I was just trying to get down there as fast as I could,” says Hill—and sent the Gators to the locker room with a 40-17 lead.
But that one half must have zapped the energy somewhat, because it somewhat uncharacteristically showed up in the first and then was consequentially missing in the second half.
The Spiders actually outscored the Gators in the second half 39-36, and those 20 minutes are what the Gators will focus on as the head into a week long break.
“We came out playing hard this game, but we just got to put a 40-minute game together,” stresses Finney-Smith.
“It was a good team, coaches did a good job to put is in the best opportunity to be successful this game, and great team win.”
Hill adds, “We haven’t put like a forty minute [game] together yet so we’re still working on that and hopefully we can do that next game.”
That next game will come on Tuesday December 8 against in state rival Miami (5-1).
Tip off is set for 7pm on ESPN2.
The Florida Gators basketball team now has one week to take these double double performances, the play from their big man, the energy exhibited in some many different phases and finally put it all together a full forty minutes. It’s another move in the dance, but once it’s mastered, the Gators team will finally understand what it’s all about.