Saturday’s win over UAB provided plenty to discuss on both sides of the ledger. Importantly, the Gators posted their first “close” victory of the season. Florida also trailed most of the way against Kansas and Florida State both in both cases, rallies came up short. This time the defending champs did enough to finish the deal and post a significant win away from home.
The Gators are still growing accustomed to the notion that just about everyone they play is going to give a Herculean effort to try and knock off the defending NCAA Champs. Programs like Kentucky and Duke, among others have dealt with it year in and year out, but this is really the first time the Florida Gators have been the game on everyone’s schedule. The adjustment demands more focus on the part of veterans and quicker maturity on the part of younger players. As we saw in South Florida Saturday night, neither was in abundant supply against UAB.
Positives Center on a Few Players
Florida’s comeback win featured much more effort defensively and a commitment to get the ball inside on offense. The Gators trailed UAB 44-33 less than a minute into the second half, but outscored the Blazers 42-26 the rest of the way. Joakim Noah and Taurean Green combined for 20 points in the second half, after putting just eleven on the board in the first twenty minutes. Corey Brewer, who hit an impossible three-pointer to end the first half added nine second half points while Al Horford scored six. Chris Richard was solid with eight points, including the basket that gave the Gators their first lead of the night.
The Gators eliminated the foolish turnovers in the second half and as a result were a much better offensive team. Defensively they were much more aggressive and alert, and Green’s steal and lay-up that made it a three point lead might have been the play of the game.
Florida can also attribute much of their win to their performance at the free throw line where the Gators were an impressive 22-for-26. Green made six straight while Brewer and Noah were perfect on five free throw attempts.
Defensively, Florida held UAB to just two three-point baskets in the second half after watching the Blazers knock down six in the first period. Noah made life miserable in the lane with four blocked shots, while Green matched his second high with three steals.
Negatives Mostly About Youth
While those guys rose to the challenge against UAB, the Gators still have much to work on as they return from South Florida. The Gators were not a deep team in the match up with the Blazers. In fact, they were essentially playing four on five much of the night. The Gators got almost nothing out of the two-guard spot. Lee Humphrey was bothered by flu-like symptoms and an injured pinkie and struggled to one of his worst nights as a Gator with just three points on 1-for-3 shooting in 33 minutes. Walter Hodge again struggled against a better opponent and was relegated to 14 minutes.
Dan Werner was coming off three strong performances in which he averaged nine points and 4.3 rebounds, but the talented freshman forward played just ten minutes as Donovan relied on his veterans up front.
Once again, the Gators failed to seize the game from the beginning, starting out slowly and never taking the lead until the aforementioned Richard basket with 7:43 to play. Even then, Florida gave the lead right back and didn’t reclaim the advantage until the final two minutes.
Still, Florida got the win in front of an Orange Bow Classic record crowd and tied the school record with their twelfth victory prior to the start of the New Year. The Gators have one more non-conference game, a seal-clubbing of Liberty Tuesday before the SEC schedule begins with Georgia next Saturday. With Florida on the verge of beginning league play, winning a tough, challenging game is a good thing. But continuing to fall behind is not. The Gators need to get more consistent play, especially form the back court in order to make a run at the SEC Title.