Entering their SEC opener, the Florida Gators had piled up more wins against Georgia than any other team it has ever played, racking up 106 total victories.
Make it 107.
The Gators put the SEC on notice Wednesday evening, blasting the Bulldogs with an impressive 77-44 victory at the O’Connell Center.
Heading into the game, the Gators were unsure of how many players they would even have available to suit up, as injuries to forwards Erik Murphy and Will Yeguete put their respective statuses in limbo.
As the O’Connell Center lights dimmed for the pregame introductions, Murphy stood alongside the other Florida reserves and watched as junior Casey Prather stepped into the starting lineup for the first time this season.
With an energized O’Dome crowd already brimming with excitement for Florida’s first conference game, Prather wasted little time getting the crowd even more amped up, as he quickly scored the Gators’ first six points.
Prather modestly kicked off UF’s first-half scoring fest with a tip-shot and then followed that up moments later with a short jumper. After hitting the jumper, Prather put the pressure on Georgia guard Vincent Williams, forcing the turnover, and scored his third consecutive basket with an emphatic dunk that brought the O’Dome crowd to its feet.
A victim of cold shooting starts in the early portion of the season, the Gators started off their conference slate with a bang, as the team went on a tear in the first half.
Despite a diagnosis of bruised ribs, Murphy showed no signs of pain on Wednesday, draining two first-half threes and playing 12 solid minutes. Guard Mike Rosario was in a scoring mood in the first half, as the senior put up nine points on 4-6 of shooting.
Despite Florida’s offensive outburst, it was the Gators’ defense which was the real story on Wednesday.
The Bulldogs didn’t have the league’s most potent offensive attack heading into the game, but Florida didn’t make things any easier for Georgia anyway, as the Gators held the ‘Dogs to single digits until there was only 4:21 remaining in the first-half.
The last time the two teams met, during the 2011-12 season, Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the team’s leading scorer, pacing an upset Bulldog victory by notching 18 points. Although the 6-foot 5 sophomore again led the team in scoring, Florida’s Kenny Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin put the clamps on the talented scorer, holding him to only 11 points on the night, well below his season average.
The second half went much like the first for the Gators, only this time it was the offense which stood out on the scoreboard.
The Gators used a barrage of three-pointers to bury the ‘Dogs, as Florida extended what was modest 13-point half-time lead to an absolute rout in the second-half.
The last time the Gators were in the confines of the O’Dome, it was Rosario who stole the show. The 6-foot 3 guard clearly has an affinity for his home court as he again emerged as the story of the night. Rosario effectively employed the pump-fake all night against the Bulldogs, forcing Georgia defenders to hesitate as he blew right past them for an easy lay-in on several occasions.
When Rosario wasn’t driving to the hole, the New Jersey native was draining them from deep, as he finished with three 3-pointers on six attempts.
Not to be outdone for Florida was center Patric Young. Donovan said earlier in the week that Florida needed to feed the ball to more the beastly junior, and the Gators listened as Young finished the night with a hard-earned 11 points.
Rosario led all Florida scorers with 19. Murphy would match Young’s output, pouring in 11 points of his own.
The Gators next head to Baton Rouge to take on 9-2 LSU at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU.