The Gator Basketball team didn’t need to play forty good minutes to beat Butler in the NCAA Sweet 16. They needed about nine. Florida dominated the final six minutes of the first half, outscoring the feisty Bulldogs 17-to-2. Then, with their National Title in jeopardy, Florida finished the game on a 12-to-3 run. Combining those stretches the Gators routed Butler by an incredible score of 29-to-5.
And it’s a good thing they did.
The rest of the night, Florida looked lethargic, treated the basketball like it was a live grenade and was outscored 52-to-36. Butler stayed with its game plan throughout, using up the shot clock to shorten the game and launching as many threes as possible. Butler led for most of the first half, including a nine point lead at 27-to-18 with six minutes to go.
After the Gators run gave them a 35-29 halftime lead, Florida came out of the locker room like they had spent the entire break napping. The first six Gator possessions after intermission went like this: miss, turnover, turnover, miss, miss and turnover. You would have expected a better start if the GatorCountry.com staff was on the floor instead of the best starting five in college basketball.
The Gators trailed by a point with 3:33 to play before the Florida big men took over the game down the stretch. The most exciting stretch of the game came in the final 1:26 after Butler got an offensive rebound after a missed free throw and had the ball with a four point deficit.
First Horford played great defense and Noah rebounded a Butler miss. With 35.7 seconds left Corey Brewer made two free throws and Butler’s next possession resulted in a Horford block (his fourth) and another Noah rebound (his ninth). Noah and Green each made a pair of free throws for the final margin of 65-to-57.
For the past two years we have written so many times about the Gators’ balanced scoring. Florida’s success has been built largely on all five guys averaging in double figures and mixing in quality contributions from the bench. That formula has helped Billy Donovan post a 65-and-11 record over that time. The Gators are all about that balance.
Except for tonight, that is.
Florida’s win over Butler was all about the oh-fours. The Gators’ four-man junior class scored 57 of Florida’s 65 points in St. Louis. Lee Humphrey had a tough night with six points and four fouls and never seemed to be in the flow of the game. Florida’s bench did even less, combining for two points, two rebounds and four fouls.
So Much for Free Throw Concerns
Much of this season the Gators have been a mediocre free throw shooting team. But in the two NCAA games in which they were threatened, the Gators have been great at the charity stripe. Florida knocked down 23-of-28 at the line in the Butler win (..821) on the heels of a 27-for-31 (.870) effort in the Purdue game.
You aren’t going to beat the Gators when they shoot 80 percent-plus from the free throw line.
Slow Starts a Growing Concern
Each of the three NCAA tournament games has seen Florida struggle in the early part of the contest, making the Gators’ lives that much more difficult. Against Jackson State the Gators trailed Jackson State by five after six minutes. They were down seven to Purdue with six minutes to play in the first half and against Butler it was a nine point deficit at the same point.
Three straight poor starts is a trend. It makes you wonder how many more times the Gators can play with fire without getting burned.