In the final game of the non-conference season (excluding a late January matchup with Baylor in the Big 12-SEC Challenge) the Gators were able to take care of business and head into Christmas with a smile after beating the Incarnate Word Cardinals 75-60. With the Gators looking out of sorts late in the first half, veteran Chris Chiozza was able to take the reigns for Florida and lead the way with 16 points, 4 assists, and 4 steals. Forward Charles Brown led the way for the Cardinals in a losing effort with 13 points and 4 rebounds, keeping his team in it until halfway through the second half when the Gators built their comfortable lead. After a non-conference slate where the Gators left some wins on the table, they now look towards league play in what is a drastically improved Southeastern Conference.
In a game where Incarnate Word actually shot the ball a lot more efficiently then Florida did (47.8% for the Cardinals, 39.1% for the Gators) the difference was the possession battle. Posting 10 offensive rebounds to the Cardinals 2 and 13 turnovers to the Cardinals 20, the Gators were able to put up 64 field goal attempts as opposed to the Cardinal’s mere 46. That allowed the Gators to come away with a win in a game where they not only couldn’t shoot well themselves but allowed an opponent to shoot the ball efficiently.
Incarnate Word played a 2-3 zone defense that really gave the Gators some problems, particularly in the first half. Without a real threat in the post for the Gators to feed to the ball into, they were forced to continually dribble around the perimeter wasting valuable clock. When they did get penetration they often didn’t have the patience to let the play develop, instead putting up tough floaters that weren’t falling. Poor offensive execution also lead to a lot of tough, late shot clock three pointers which led to the Gators going 9-36 (25%) from beyond the arc. Zoning against the Gators is a tactic we’re seeing more and more so they will have to find a way to attack these defenses with efficiency.
Constantly putting pressure on the Cardinals’ offense the Gators came away with 14 steals which is an outstanding total. Given that the Gators aren’t a great straight up defensive team I think playing with pressure for steals is a smart idea. After doing it tonight against Southland Conference competition, we’ll see if they can emulate it against Southeastern Conference competition.
Jalen Hudson had a career high in assists tonight with 6 helpers. He’s a guy who has never been known as much of a playmaker, but for a guy who is going to have the ball in his hands a lot of the time he needs to become a better distributor and tonight was a sign he is getting better.
Hayes Season High
Kevarrius Hayes put up his season high in points tonight with 8, all early in the first half. 8 points isn’t a massive total, but hopefully he can get his confidence up as a guy who needs to be able to catch the ball around the rim and finish.
Highlight of the Game
The most electrifying play of the game had to be Jalen Hudson throwing the ball up to Chris Chiozza for a thunderous one-handed alley-oop. People who have watched Cheese play know he is an explosive athlete, but whenever you see a 6’0” guard get up like that it is always an impressive spectacle.
What’s up Next
After what is hopefully a great Christmas break for the team and a time of refocusing, the Gators begin conference play against Vanderbilt. The Commodores are a team that has underachieved in the non-conference slate and in my opinion is a lot better then their current 5-7 record suggests, so this will be a battle much like every other game in the SEC will be this season.
What do you think of the performance tonight by the Gators? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.
And lastly, I want to wish you and your family a happy holiday season from me and the Gator Country family! I’ll see you all the conference season.