Running into the number one team in the country is always a challenge and with Baylor living up to the hype and playing to the level of expectations that come with that ranking the Gators were in tough and unable to match that level of play fell by a score of 72-61. Florida showed a lot of fight in the second half after Baylor’s lead touched 20 points and were able to keep the game interesting but ultimately the Bear’s lockdown defense prevented the Gators from getting any offensive rhythm and they couldn’t score enough to get back into the game. Playing a big role in this one was the three-point line where Baylor capitalized on many of their chances going 9-20 for 45% while the Gators agonizingly saw open shots bounce out finishing 4-18 for 22%. Opening the game with 17-9 lead it was looking like Florida had a great shot of winning but a 20-6 run by Baylor to end the half up 40-29 was the deficit Florida could never overcome.
While Florida didn’t score the ball extremely well they managed to salvage a decent night offensively and this game was lost on the other end where they couldn’t keep Baylor out of the paint all night long. Baylor’s elite rotation of four guards cooked any Gator defender off the dribble with ease and it allowed them to get open layups or create the three-point looks the quieted the O’Dome crowd. MaCio Teague (16 points, 3 assists), Devonte Bandoo (16 points, 1 assist), Jared Butler (12 points, 3 assists) and Davion Mitchell (12 points, 6 assists) were a treacherous quartet of backcourt talent the Gators had no answer for, especially when they had to go to the bench. Florida hasn’t faced backcourt depth and talent like that all season and those four showed just why the Bears are the top team in the nation.
Second Half Superstar
In similar fashion to what he did against LSU when he turned it on in the second stanza Andrew Nembhard had a difficult first half but flipped the switch in the second, coming alive in Florida’s attempted comeback and finishing with 16 points and 8 assists. It was him going to the bench in the first half that coincided with Baylor going on their run and in the second half Nembhard’s ability to get to the rim and finish was what gave the Gators a sliver of a chance. Florida actually tied Baylor 32-32 in the second half and it was the 11-point first half that was the difference and Nembhard is going to need to bring some of these second half surges to the first so the Gators don’t fall behind.
Free Throws Aren’t Free
With Baylor’s lead at 14 in the second half the Gators had some momentum going and had a chance to really cut the deficit with Kerry Blackshear going to the charity stripe to shoot a one-and-one.
He missed the front end.
Next time down the floor he got fouled and sent to the line for another one-and-one. He did his routine, went to shoot the first one, and…
…he missed it.
Then, Noah Locke got his chance to shoot the final one-and-one available.
You guessed it, he missed the front end.
An opportunity for 6 easy points was cashed in for exactly 0 and that took out any wind the Gators had in their sails. Those were heartbreaking free throws to miss and considering they were able to get the lead down to 10 with a few minutes remaining those free throws would have been amazing. It could have been a different story if Blackshear and Locke could have converted and their misses were a metaphor for Florida’s tough night.
Second Chance Opportunities
Another area that stung the Gators was rebounding and they allowed Baylor to get 14 offensive rebounds. The Bears are an efficient offensive team already and giving them extra possessions allowed them to simply outpace the Gators offensively. Many of these offensive rebounds came from the Gators getting scrambled on defense as they tried to rotate and defend Baylor’s first shot. Since they were all jumbled up they missed box outs and that allowed Baylor to feast on the glass. There have been multiple games where defensive rebounding has been a problem for the Gators and this game was a perfect example of the problem.
Baylor showed why they are the number one team in the country and exploited some of the issues of the Florida roster. The Gators’ perimeter defense was mercilessly exploited by the surplus of talented guards on Baylor’s roster and by getting in the paint at will they also exploited Florida’s rebounding. Their bench also steadily outplayed Florida’s bench and it just seemed like every deficiency Florida had was spotlighted. That’s what happens when you play elite basketball teams and hopefully this is a learning experience for the Gators. While it would have been great to get a big resume win this game doesn’t matter in the standings and Florida’s focus has to be on the SEC so if they can get better from this experience then it can go from a negative night to a positive one.