The Florida Basketball team didn’t start the NCAA Tournament the way it wanted to. The Gators didn’t deliver a message from the opening tip that they were a force to be reckoned with. The Gators played with a lack of passion, focus and intensity and allowed an inferior opponent to hang around for 20 minutes, leading by just six points at the half.
In short, the Gators looked nothing like a team ready to make a deep run in the Big Dance.
But enough about last year’s game with South Alabama.
Friday night, here in New Orleans the Gators were actually worse in the first half. Florida threw the ball all over the court, missed open shots like they were trying to dent the rim and broke down over and over again on defense. But after what was undoubtedly a loving, tender halftime message from their coach, the Gators dominated the second half in ways I have never seen in NCAA Tournament play.
Choose Your Favorite Angle
Florida scored 112 points, by far the most the Gators have ever scored in a tournament game.
The Gators scored 71 points in the second half alone. Those 71 points would have been enough in EVERY game during last year’s championship run.
Florida covered the 28 point spread with nine points to spare in the second half alone! You could tell which fans took Jackson State and the points because they got awfully vocal about Florida running up the score after having virtually nothing to say all night.
The Gators out-rebounded Jackson State by 43, the largest rebound differential in the history of the NCAA Tournament.
The Gators were so good that two players set their career high scoring marks and neither was a starter. Chris Richard, who had ten huge points in the first half ended up with 17 while Marreese Speights scored 14 of his 16 after intermission.
Lee Humphrey got into the record-breaking act, knocking down a three-pointer for the 34th consecutive game. He has been tied at 33 with Brett Nelson. It didn’t start out well for the Florida sharpshooter who was a dreadful 0-for-5 in the first half, but he made four of five in the second half to bring his career total to 269 made from long range. That moves the man I like to call Hump-three ahead of Anthony Roberson (267) into second place in UF history. He needs six more to take the top spot from Nelson.
Taurean Green had a tough first half as well with 0-for-5 shooting, three missed free throws and three turnovers in the first half. Florida’s floor leader made up for that with a nine assist second half, giving him a dozen for the game, which is, you guessed it another UF record.
Purdue a Worthy Opponent
The Purdue Boilermakers surprised many by taking a 72-63 decision from Arizona. America’s premier underachievers, the Wildcats were the clearly more talented team, but they were also the more undisciplined, more uncontrolled and more inconsistent team.
To their credit, they did battle, for a while. Trailing 45-34, Arizona got within three points three different times but never could get back even.
We’ll have much more on Purdue tomorrow, but I will say this. They are a little more athletic than I expected and they play every bit as hard as they can. Purdue will bang on you on defense and they’ll work the shot clock with motion offense when they have the ball. Senior forward Carl Landry is a 6’7” 250-pound force who averages 19 points and better than seven rebounds. They had four players in double figures in their win over Arizona and they make you work to get to loose balls. It’s a game that could look a lot like Florida’s tougher games against teams like Ole Miss and Mississippi State
That said Florida is bigger, faster and better. If they’re ready for Purdue’s physical play in the first half they should be fine as they try to take another step towards hoops immortality.