Solid, Effective End to Pre-Conference Slate

Florida’s 15th and final game before the start of SEC play was just about what Billy Donovan would have asked for. The Gators played a strong first half, dominated the inside throughout and cruised to an 89-58 win over Liberty. The Gators gave Donovan a good start to the contest, plenty of unselfish play, balanced scoring and a comfortable win.

But the game also gave the Gator Coach plenty of things to use to get his guys’ attention as they begin preparations for the league opener against Georgia on Saturday. Horford’s Double/Double leads Way

Al Horford effectively ended any discussion about lingering issues from his ankle injury with another solid performance. Horford scored a dozen points on six-for-nine shooting and grabbed eleven rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season and 18th of his Gator career. The junior center also added three assists without a turnover in 25 minutes.

Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah had mixed games. Noah had 15 points and six rebounds while Brewer scored 14, grabbed four boards and had three steals. But each Gator had five turnovers, setting a season high (low?) for Brewer while matching Noah’s worst day in that regard.

Lee Humphrey looked like he was over the flu bug that slowed him in South Florida. He scored just eight points but added three rebounds and three assists. Marrisse Speights was the star off the bench, scoring eight points and snagging seven rebounds in just seven minutes.

The Gators shot 62 percent from the field (34-55) which shows excellent shot selection and ball movement. Nine different players took at least four shots form the field and eight of them shot 50 percent or better. In all eleven Gators played and ten of them scored in wrapping up the pre-SEC schedule with a 13-and-2 record. That win total is the second best in school history prior to the start of conference competition and leaves the Gators in excellent shot for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Plenty Still to Work on

Despite the 31-point lead there is plenty of video from this game that Donovan can use to get his guys’ attention beginning tomorrow. First, Florida turned the ball over 18 times. As mentioned above, ten of those went to Brewer and Noah, but Walter Hodge and Jonathan Mitchell each had a pair of giveaways. Florida’s 21 assists was a good number, but a 21/18 assist/turnover ratio is not what the Gators had in mind. The Gators also managed just four steals on the night, which is about half their average.

Florida started out five-for-eight form three point range, but missed six of their final seven from long range. But the biggest issue might be at the free throw line where the Gators clanged their way to a dreadful 15-for-30. The 50 percent matched their worst performance of the season. Chris Richard, who entered the game at eighty percent (16-for-20) was the main culprit with four misses in six tries. Noah was next at one-for-four while Humphrey and Brandon Powell both went oh-for-two.

The troubles at the charity stripe are surprising, because last year the Gators were 77 percent from the line in SEC play and upped that to 80 percent in the NCAA Tournament. This year, they are hanging in the sixties (.681) and the difference could be the two or three points that takes you from a close win to a close loss.

The Fightin’ Falwells of Liberty University were clearly overmatched against the defending champs, but they competed and had some highlight moments along the way. Still tonight was about the Gators finishing up their non-conference schedule and getting ready to begin the nine-week SEC grind. The Florida Gators have not won the SEC title since earning a share of the crown in 2001. The school’s lone outright SEC Championship came in 1989 when Florida outdistanced the field by a game. The next big goal for the Gators, winning the SEC is now at hand. Step one is Saturday.