Chandler Parsons sprinted down the left side of the floor to catch up with Nick Calathes, who was already at the top of the key, searching for a teammate cutting to the basket. Out of the corner of his eyes, Calathes saw Parsons and he gave him that look that only they know. After all the years they’ve played basketball together it’s a look neither one of them can describe but they both know what’s coming next.
Two more strides and Parsons was cutting to the basket. Calathes flicked a one-handed pass that Parsons snagged chest high and banked in for an easy layup. They made it look so easy because it’s a pass, catch and finish they’ve probably made a thousand times before in practice or those endless pickup games or games that actually count like the one that was going on Wednesday night at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
“I thought he was going to throw a bounce pass or else I would have went up for the dunk on the alley oop,” said Parsons, whose finishing layup ensured that Calathes would register just the third triple-double in Florida basketball history. “I knew it was coming to me, just a matter of if I was going to finish or not … it was a great pass.”
Calathes has two of those three triple-doubles and this one was a spectacular 20 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Florida Gators to an 83-57 win over the Georgia Bulldogs before a crowd of 11,121 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The 6-6 sophomore guard from Casselberry got his other triple-double in the second round of the NIT last season when he racked up 11 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in Florida’s win over Creighton. Corey Brewer got the first triple-double in Florida history in 2005 against Jacksonville University.
It was the second straight blowout win for the Gators (18-3, 5-1 SEC East), who have rebounded from last week’s shocking loss at South Carolina by hammering two straight Southeastern Conference opponents into submission. Sunday, the Gators beat Vanderbilt, 94-65, a game in which Parsons scored a career-high 27 points and hit 7-8 from the three-point line. Against Georgia, it was Calathes that got the job done.
Sweet redemption for the two guys who felt the weight of the world on their shoulders after they each missed free throws in the final 13.3 seconds that could have won the game at South Carolina.
But after the win against Georgia Wednesday night, neither Parsons or Calathes were looking at their last two games as redemption. They were already focusing in on the job that waits Saturday night in Knoxville when they face a Tennessee team that is reeling after a 79-73 loss to LSU Wednesday night.
“Saturday is huge,” said Parsons, who scored 12 points and grabbed four rebounds against Georgia. “Tennessee’s a great team … they’re explosive and athletic. They’re really tough to play at home. As you can see they’re capable of being beaten at home and we have to go in there with the right mindset and keep playing aggressive and keep staying focused on the task.”
Last year in Knoxville, the Vols hung 104 points on the Gators and Calathes remembers that all too well.
“They definitely put it to us at their place but I think we’re a different team,” said Calathes. “Obviously we have to come with a mindset of toughness there. I’m sure Coach (Billy Donovan) will get us ready.”
It was obvious that Donovan had the Gators ready for Georgia Wednesday night. Florida put together another outstanding shooting night (49.2 percent from the floor) that included plenty of three-balls (11-24 against Georgia after 15-25 against Vandy on Sunday) and solid defense from a matchup zone that continues to get better.
Georgia became the sixth straight SEC opponent that has failed to shot 50 percent on the Gators.
“We couldn’t say that last year I can guarantee that,” said junior forward Dan Werner after the Gators held the Bulldogs to 43.4 percent shooting from the field (23-53) and 28.6 percent (6-21) from the three-point line. “I think that’s one of our strengths and something we’ve improved since last year.”
Georgia never led in the game and the Bulldogs kept it close for almost 15 minutes, but that’s when Calathes began to take the game over. He had back-to-back assists that led to an Alex Tyus baseline jumper and a layup by Parsons with 4:38 remaining that got the Gators going on a 20-9 run to finish the half. Calathes didn’t score in the final 5:02 of the half but his fingerprints were all over everything the Gators did that allowed them to take control of the game. Whether it was pushing the tempo of the game or racking up an assist with another perfectly timed pass or forcing Georgia into another careless pass against the Florida press, Calathes was the catalyst to everything the Gators were doing.
“You see the passes and the shots he makes but he’s so much more than that,” said Dan Werner, who scored 11 points and was the beneficiary of a Calathes pass on all three of his made three-pointers. “He pushes the ball up the court and he rebounds and he plays defense … I don’t think I’ve ever seen another player quite like him.”
Calathes finished the first half with six points, six rebounds and five assists to help push the Gators out to a 42-30 halftime lead. He scored six of Florida’s first eight points of the second half to get the points part of the triple-double out of the way.
He got his tenth rebound with 13:21 left in the game and converted that into a pass to Erving Walker for a three-pointer from the right wing that gave the Gators a 59-36 lead.
The tenth and final assist came after four trips down the floor in which wide open Gators fired up Scuds after a Calathes pass set them up. The play started with a rebound by Werner, who fired an outlet pass up the middle of the floor to Calathes, who made the pass to Parsons for the layup with 4:39 remaining in the game to finish off the triple-double.
The O-Dome crowd went wild as did Calathes teammates but Calathes didn’t think it was such a big deal.
“What it means to me is my teammates hit big shots,” said Calathes. “My teammates came ready to play and I just tried to run the team. Getting a 26-point win means a whole lot more.”