The way the Florida Gators were swarming in the backcourt whenever Billy Donovan flipped the switches on a full court press that was downright lethal, it must have seemed to the Georgia Bulldogs that they were going against a couple extra defenders. Getting the ball inbounds was a chore and running through that lethal gauntlet past the midcourt stripe so they could set up their offense was exhausting. On those occasions when they did break the press or when Florida chose not to press, the Bulldogs shot lights out but that is precisely why the Gators chose to pour on the pressure.
Georgia shot 59.6 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from the three-point line Wednesday night, numbers usually associated with blowout wins, but 19 turnovers were converted into 33 Florida points and that was enough to tip the scales heavily in Florida’s favor. It was the fourth straight SEC win for Florida (15-5, 4-2 SEC East) and one that was a confidence builder for a team that understands intensity will have to be the key for a successful run the rest of the season.
“We’re confident right now,” said point guard Erving Walker, who lit up the Bulldogs for 21 points, 10 assists, three rebounds and three steals. “We’re playing really well and it all starts in practice.”
Practices have been particularly intense ever since the Gators got off to an 0-2 start in SEC play. In the losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky, the hard lesson learned was if you don’t come every day with intensity and focus, this is what happens to you.
“We were in the game both games,” Walker said. “A few minor corrections and we could have easily won those games so we had to fix those things and get on a little winning streak.”
The seeds for a winning streak began at practice and they sprouted a workmanlike attitude that has allowed Florida coach Billy Donovan to get more accomplished in less time. Because the Gators have come to practice with that let’s get the job done attitude, Donovan has quite often shortened practice.
Shorter practices because of focus and intensity is a rather new concept for Alex Tyus, who really doesn’t like the memory of his freshman year dredged up.
“I think Coach D is really starting to get more confident that we’re going to bring the energy and bring the focus [to practice],” Tyus said, after scoring a season best 23 points to go with three rebounds, two assists, a blocked shot and two steals. “We’re getting better at basketball instead of working at playing hard all the time.”
Donovan often lamented the lack of a strong work ethic and an attention span that was all too short two years ago. Things improved somewhat last season but this year, he has a team that wants to work hard and wants to get better every single day.
Tyus says the difference on a scale of one to ten with ten being high intensity is quite noticeable every single day.
“It’s like 10-2, maybe 10-3 my freshman year …. I don’t even like thinking about my freshman year,” he said. “It’s like 10-5 compared to last year.”
Georgia came into Wednesday’s game feeling rather good about itself since a blowout win over then eighth-ranked Tennessee last Saturday. The Bulldogs, who have been playing with extreme confidence since the new year, had Kentucky on the ropes at Rupp and nearly pulled off upsets over Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs were had to be feeling very confident in the opening three minutes of the game when they jumped out to a 9-4 lead. The intensity and focus that Donovan was looking for was non-existent when the game began.
“I was not thrilled the first two minutes of the game,” Donovan said. “I really thought we were came out flat and lackadaisical. I thought a lot changed a lot when Dan Werner came into the game. I thought Dan Werner played with great energy. He came with a great level of focus. He did some really good things.”
In his first four minutes on the floor, Werner forced a bad shot with his defense; out-positioned Georgia’s 6-11, 270-pound Albert Jackson for a rebound, after which his long outlet pass to Kenny Boynton was converted into a layup; hit a 10-foot floater in the lane and then drew a charging foul on Georgia’s ensuing possession.
Energized by Werner’s play, the Gators took over the game. In their two possessions after the charge, Vernon Macklin got a layup on a brilliant pass from Walker and Walker drilled the first of four three-pointers he would hit during the evening to put the Gators ahead, 15-11 with 12:28 left to play in the first half.
From that point, Florida’s confidence soared while Georgia went into a total funk. Florida turned on the press and the Georgia backcourt wilted. The Gators scored 19 points off Georgia turnovers in the first half, ending on a 12-7 run in which eight of the points were the result of Georgia turnovers as Florida went into the dressing room with a 45-33 lead.
And the intensity didn’t slack off after the intermission, either.
“We got a lot turnovers in the first half and even in the second half we got a lot of turnovers,” said Florida freshman Kenny Boynton, whose stat line read 21 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals. “This probably was our best game because we kept the intensity going the whole game.”
This marked the first time since December 19, 2000 that the Gators had three players with 20 or more points in the same game. The last time the Gators did it, Brent Wright had 26, Matt Bonner 21 and Udonis Haslem 20 against Bethune-Cookman.
About the only thing that kept Georgia close was the hot shooting of Trey Thompkins and Ricky McPhee, who combined to score 45 points. Thompkins hit 10-12 shots from the field and drilled both his three-pointers en route to 24 points, while McPhee was 5-8 on three-pointers and 8-11 from the field.
The good shooting could only compensate for so much, however, because the Florida press kept turning the Bulldogs over and wore them down so much that it became easy pickings for the Gators on the inside. Although Georgia had a serious size advantage, Florida outscored the Bulldogs, 40-32, in the paint and the Gators held a 27-23 margin on the boards.
The Gators were particularly effective on the offensive boards, scoring 17 second chance points off 13 offensive rebounds. Tyus, Vernon Macklin (12 points, four rebounds, two steals) and Chandler Parsons (eight points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals) combined for 14 of Florida’s second chance points.
Florida’s advantage on the inside numbers had everything to do with the effectiveness of the press because it forced the Bulldogs out of their preferred half court game by making it a 90-foot affair.
“I felt with their size and length we were really going to need to get the game going up and down to make our press more of a factor than it’s been in the last couple of games,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
The tempo of the game and Florida’s ability to keep the ball moving to find open shooters negated the effectiveness of a Georgia zone that had stifled Tennessee last Saturday. The Vols managed just 3-16 from the three-point line against Georgia while the Gators were 7-16. Walker, who has been on a three-point tear since SEC play began, went 4-6 from long distance. He’s 23-37 in SEC games now, a red hot 62.2 percent.
While the basket must seem big as the ocean to Walker these days, it was the press that he wanted to talk about after the game was over.
“About time we got some steals out of the press,” he said. “That’s what we have to do against a team like that with a lot of big people. We have to make them play our style of play up and down.”
The Gators will go against another team with a big, physical front line Sunday in Knoxville when they face off with Tennessee. It’s a critical road game for the Gators who want to stay within a couple of games of SEC East leader Vanderbilt, which handed Tennessee its second straight loss Wednesday night.
The Gators have lost five straight games to the Vols and haven’t beaten Tennessee in Knoxville since 2005. Winning on the road will require the same level of focus and intensity that has fueled this four-game winning streak for the Gators.
“We can’t get big headed,” Walker said. “We have to stay humble and keep working hard.”
GAME NOTES: The effectiveness of the press was evident in the number of shots taken. Florida squeezed off 60 shots while Georgia managed only 47. The deficit had everything to do with Georgia’s inability at times to get the ball across halfcourt … Walker’s 10 assists were a career-high … Walker and Boynton combined for 13 assists and only three turnovers against Georgia … Boynton scored in double figures for the sixth straight game … Tyus has scored in double figures 11 straight games … Werner had a game-high six rebounds for the Gators to go with two assists and two points off the bench.
FLORIDA 87, GEORGIA 71
At Stephen C. O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
Travis Leslie 5-11 1-2 11, Dustin Ware 2-5 0-0 5, Trey Thompkins 10-12 2-2 24, Ricky McPhee 8-11 0-0 21, Albert Jackson 1-2 1-2 3, Vincent Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Chris Barnes 0-0 0-0 0, Ebuka Anyaorah 0-1 1-2 1, Drazen Zlovaric 0-1 0-0 0, Jeremy Price 2-4 2-2 6. Totals: 28-47 7-10 71.
Field-goal shooting: 28 of 47 for 59.6 percent. 3-point shooting: 8 of 14 for 57.1 percent (McPhee 5-8, Thompkins 2-2, Ware 1-2, Anyaorah 0-1, Zlovaric 0-1). Free-throw shooting: 7 of 10 for 70 percent. Points off turnovers: 17. Second-chance points: 2. Fastbreak points: 8. Points in the paint: 32. Rebounds: 23 (Leslie 8, Thompkins 6). Assists: 19 (Ware 7, Leslie 4). Blocked shots: 4 (Leslie, Thompkins, Jackson, Anyaorah). Steals: 6 (Leslie 2). Turnovers: 19 (Leslie 4, Thompkins 4, Price 4). Total fouls (fouled out): 13 (none).
FLORIDA (87) – Kenny Boynton 8-16 2-2 21, Chandler Parsons 4-7 0-0 8, Erving Walker 4-10 4-6 9-12 21, Alex Tyus 10-14 3-3 23, Vernon Macklin 5-10 2-3 12, Kyle McClanahan 0-0 0-0 0, Ray Shipman 0-0 0-0 0, Dan Werner 1-3 0-0 2, Erik Murphy 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 32-60 16-20 87.
Field-goal shooting: 32 of 60 for 53.3 percent. 3-point shooting: 7 of 16 for 43.8 percent (Walker 4-6, Boynton 3-7, Parsons 0-2, Werner 0-1). Free-throw shooting: 16 of 20 for 80 percent. Points off turnovers: 33. Second-chance points: 17. Fastbreak points: 13. Points in the paint: 40. Rebounds: 27 (Werner 6, Boynton 4, Parsons 4). Assists: 20 (Walker 10). Blocked shots: 2 (Tyus, Macklin). Steals: 12 (Walker 3). Turnovers: 10 (Werner 2, Parsons 2, Walker 2). Total fouls (fouled out): 7 (none).
Halftime: Florida 45, Georgia 33. Officials: Tom Eades, Doug Simons, Terry Moore. Attendance: 10,603. Records: Georgia 9-9, 1-4 SEC East; Florida 15-5, 4-2 SEC East.
For the latest standings, click below:
Tuesday, Jan. 26
South Carolina 68, No. 1 Kentucky 62
Wednesday, Jan. 27
Florida 87, Georgia 71
No. 23 Vanderbilt 85, No. 14 Tennessee 76
Alabama 57, Louisiana State 38
Thursday, Jan. 28
Mississippi at Auburn, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
Mississippi State at Arkansas, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Saturday, Jan. 30
Louisiana State at Mississippi State, 1:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Alabama at Auburn, 4 p.m. (SEC Network)
Arkansas at Mississippi, 4 p.m. (SEC Network)
Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Georgia at South Carolina, 7 p.m. (FSN)
Sunday, Jan. 31
Florida at Tennessee, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Tuesday, Feb. 2
Mississippi at Kentucky, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Wednesday, Feb. 3
Arkansas at Georgia, 7 p.m. (CSS)
Mississippi State at Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Thursday, Feb. 4
Florida at Alabama, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Tennessee at Louisiana State, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Saturday, Feb. 6
Mississippi State at Florida, 1:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Auburn at Arkansas, 1:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Kentucky at Louisiana State, 4 p.m. (SEC Network)
Alabama at Mississippi, 6 p.m. (FSN)
South Carolina at Tennessee, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Vanderbilt at Georgia, 8 p.m. (FSN)
Tuesday, Feb. 9
Tennessee at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Alabama at Kentucky, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
Wednesday, Feb. 10
Florida at South Carolina, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Louisiana State at Arkansas, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Georgia at Auburn, 9 p.m. (CSS)
Thursday, Feb. 11
Mississippi at Mississippi State, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Saturday, Feb. 13
Xavier at Florida, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Louisiana State at Vanderbilt, 1:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Arkansas at Alabama, 4 p.m. (SEC Network)
South Carolina at Georgia, 4 p.m. (SEC Network)
Auburn at Mississippi State, 7 p.m. (FSN)
Tennessee at Kentucky, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Tuesday, Feb. 16
Kentucky at Mississippi State, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Wednesday, Feb. 17
Georgia at Tennessee, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
South Carolina at Arkansas, 9 p.m. (CSS)
Thursday, Feb. 18
Auburn at Florida, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Vanderbilt at Mississippi, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Saturday, Feb. 20
Florida at Mississippi, 12 p.m. (CBS)
Tennessee at South Carolina, 1:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Mississippi State at Louisiana State, 4 p.m. (SEC Network)
Alabama at Georgia, 4 p.m. (SEC Network)
Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Arkansas at Auburn, 7 p.m. (FSN)
Tuesday, Feb. 23
Tennessee at Florida, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Wednesday, Feb. 24
Auburn at Mississippi, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Arkansas at Louisiana State, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Alabama at Mississippi State, 9 p.m. (CSS)
Thursday, Feb. 25
Georgia at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
South Carolina at Kentucky, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Saturday, Feb. 27
Florida at Georgia, 4 p.m. (SEC Network)
Kentucky at Tennessee, 12 p.m. (CBS)
Vanderbilt at Arkansas, 1:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Mississippi at Alabama, 2 p.m. (ESPN2)
Mississippi State at South Carolina, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Louisiana State at Auburn, 7 p.m. (FSN)
Tuesday, March 2
Vanderbilt at Florida, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Wednesday, March 3
Alabama at South Carolina, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Arkansas at Tennessee, 7 p.m. (CSS)
Mississippi State at Auburn, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Kentucky at Georgia, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Thursday, March 4
Louisiana State at Mississippi, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Saturday, March 6
Auburn at Alabama, 1:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
South Carolina at Vanderbilt, 2 p.m. (ESPN2)
Mississippi at Arkansas, 4 p.m. (SEC Network)
Georgia at Louisiana State, 5 p.m. (FSN)
Tennessee at Mississippi State, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Sunday, March 7
Florida at Kentucky, 12 p.m. (CBS)
At Sommet Center, Nashville, Tenn.
Thursday, March 11
Game, 1 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 2, 3:15 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 3, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 4, 9:45 p.m. (SEC Network)
Friday, March 12
Game 5, 1 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 6, 3:15 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 7, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 8, 9:45 p.m. (SEC Network)
Saturday, March 13
Game 9, 1 p.m. (ABC)
Game 10, 3:15 p.m. (ABC)
Sunday, March 14
Game 11, Championship, 1 p.m. (ABC)