The top two goals for the Gator Basketball Team this season focused on two things last year’s National Champions did not accomplish. First, Florida is determined to win all of its home games. Florida is moving along nicely in that direction with twelve down and six to go. And looking at the way SEC teams are largely stinking up the road it seems pretty likely to happen.
Second, and most importantly the Gators want an SEC regular season title. Florida has not won the SEC since 2000 and has just one outright SEC title in school history (1989).
Last (Wednesday) night’s performance against Mississippi State was not one for the highlight film, but it got the job done. The Gators overcame a talented, motivated team and raucous crowd to improve to 5-and-0 in conference play. You can’t do better than that, but it has added significance when you consider every other SEC team has at least two losses in league play. The Gators not only enjoy a two game head start on the field, they also have two wins away from home. That’s hard to claim in a league where home teams are winning at a .788 clip (26-and-7).
What Made Starkville Tough
Billy Donovan can tell you something that Ron Zook and Steve Spurrier both know all too well; winning in Starkville is never easy. Mississippi State has smaller facilities than most of its SEC rivals, but when Bulldog fans think they have a chance to upset a power, they are as loud as anyone. Wednesday night was a perfect case in point. State fans showed up early and rarely took a seat as the Bulldogs spent most of the night forcing the Gators to play from behind.
Even when the Gators seemingly had control of the game at 62-53 with about six minutes to go the ‘Dogs and their fans never relented. It took a clutch “3” from Taurean Green and tip in from Joakim Noah in the closing minutes to get the Gators the win, their 18th in 20 outings overall.
Florida certainly made it interesting with ill advised early in the shot clock and way too many careless turnovers, but these things happen on the toad. After doing a poor job on the boards for the first 20 minutes, the Gators ended up out-rebounding State by eight. The Gators got 17 more chances at the free throw line, but failed to capitalize missing eleven free throws on the night including six of ten at one point. Big men Al Horford and Chris Richard shared the indignity with three misses apiece.
Despite the unsightly nature of the games, there were several very good signs for the Gators. Florida responded to physical play and out-roughed the home team in the second half. The Gators posted a road win in the SEC despite shooting a season-low 42 percent from the field. Joakim Noah made four straight free throws, giving him ten straight over two games and Walter Hodge seemed to play better off the bench.
The SEC East continues to pretty much have its way with the SEC Worst. Wednesday night three of the four east-west games were won by teams in the Eastern Division. That leaves the East with an 11-4 advantage over teams from the other side. Amazingly enough all six SEC West teams remain winless on the road after Arkansas went to Columbia and became the first SEC team to lose to South Carolina.
And the number 70 remains a key one for the Gators. For the 18th time the Gators scored 70 and they are 17-and-1 when they reach that point total. Actually, you could argue they are 17-0-and-1 when they score 70 since the Gators tied Kansas at that score in regulation before losing in overtime. Defensively, Ole Miss (67) became the 15th Gator opponent to be held under 70 this season. Florida is a perfect 15and-0 when its holds opponents to 69 or fewer points.
Countdown to 1,000
Corey’s Brewer’s 20 in Starkville moved the Florida junior within two big games (or three good ones) of 1,000 career points. Brewer needs 47 points to become the 38th Gators to reach that milestone. Updating his teammates Joakim Noah is within 86 points which is just one point closer than Taurean Green. Lee Humphrey (876) is 124 points shy with Al Horford the furthest away at 834. Florida has at least 13 more games to play, and if that’s all they play Horford will need to average 12.8 points a game to reach 1,000.