One would be hard pressed to find a better recent performance from the Florida men’s basketball team than what was on display Wednesday night.
In a game in which I had offered keys to winning an expected ugly contest, the No. 10 Gators were triumphantly, dominantly beautiful.
And so, as we review ” The Good, Bad and Ugly” of a 74-56 win over Wisconsin, there will be an obvious and deserved emphasis on the former.
The Good: This one begins … though it does not end … with Erik Murphy. In arguably one of the most complete performances the O’Connell Center has hosted in years, Murphy paced the Gators with a near flawless game. Less than 24 hours after Florida coach Billy Donovan questioned his availability to play, a sick Murphy was . . . well, “sick.” In a heroic effort that Willis Reed would envy, Murphy went an amazing 10 for 10 from the floor and drilled both 3-point attempts. In addition to a career-high tying 24 points, he also snared a game-high eight rebounds, including a beautiful offensive board that he deftly converted into a quick bucket. Perhaps most impressive was the continued revelation of a very complete offensive game that has matured far beyond 3-point shooting. Murphy showed incredible skill around the basket, as well as a picture-perfect mid-range jumper that gave the Wisconsin defense fits. And he wasn’t the only one battering the Badgers. The offense executed well, created tempo and shot the ball at game-breaking 62 percent clip. Fans are hoping Mike Rosario broke through with what was certainly his best game in a Gators uniform. He was assertive going to the basket, and generally made solid decisions. Just as importantly, he shot well — a goal that has eluded him in past games. Rosario ended with 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting. And though he forced a few ill-advised attempts, Rosario made a concerted effort to find teammates and did record four assists, including a perfectly placed alley-oop to Young. Kenny Boynton, though not his best perimeter shooting night, did record yet another 4-point play and seemed comfortable running the offense. He too was aggressive going to the basket and drawing fouls. Speaking of fouls, the Gators surprisingly forced a very disciplined Wisconsin team into 18 fouls, and converted 16 of their 20 free throw attempts. Defensively, the Gators showed a fair amount of zone throughout the night and effectively forced Wisconsin into a one-dimensional attack that relied on oft-contested 3-point attempts. The Badgers ended the night 7 of 24 from beyond the arc. In a stat somewhat hidden by the score and offensive performance, the Gators may have snatched victory off the glass by limiting the Badgers to primarily one-and-done possessions. Florida out-rebounded a long Wisconsin team by a whopping plus-19 margin, hauling in a gaudy 31 defensive boards. As Donovan has preached, the rebounding effort was a team one. Boynton, Rosario and freshman Michael Frazier combined for 15, while the starting frontcourt accounted for 23. Speaking of Frazier, he shook off a mini-slump from the Alabama State game and knocked-down all three of his shot attempts, including two from beyond the arc.
The Bad: It almost seems like nit picking — and perhaps it is considering the overall performance, but the Gators committed far too many turnovers. In fact, the final score seems even more impressive when viewed in the light of 20 Gators giveaways. Unfortunately, this too was a team effort with five different players pitching in three turnovers or more to the inflated total. Patric Young was credited with five, and seemed to struggle gathering the ball all night. Many lost possessions occurred on poor entry passes or fumbled interior deliveries. It was an ongoing problem that was attributed at times to poor passing angles, forced attempts or simply botched catches. Young must make himself a bigger and stronger target, but his teammates also need to do a far better job of getting him the ball — ON TIME! Too often, solid interior position was ignored only to make a far more difficult entry-pass attempt later in the possession. For its frontcourt to meet its potential, the Gators will need to improve in this area.
The Ugly: OK, I hate doing this and debated opening the proverbial “Pandora’s box” of discussion and debate, but let’s be honest — the only ugly aspect of Wednesday night was the attendance. Yes, I have heard all of the rationales relating to a 7 p.m. game time conflicting with work, as well as the reasoning related to the economy and a slumping sports industry. But to that, I say “phooey!” In a town populated by 125,000 residents and centered by a university enrolling nearly 50,000 Gators, I cannot find a legitimate excuse for the feeble fan showing. For years, there were loud cries about poor scheduling and weak opposition, and that was often offered cause for poor attendance. But Wednesday night the Gators faced a top-25, Big Ten and nationally prominent program — yet still left much of the second and third level seats empty. The Gators are putting a fantastic product on the floor — a winning product — against some of the best teams in the country. It is past the time for Florida fans to realize what has been accomplished here — and what continues to be achieved by a legendary coach and his nationally powerful program. C’mon Gator fans, get up and go … to the O’Connell Center!