The Florida Gators basketball team moved to 5-0 on the season with a hard-fought double overtime win over the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the semifinals of the PK80.
The game could have gone either way at any point, but in the end, the Gators came away with a 111-105 advantage to advance to the tournament final game.
After the Bulldogs raced to a 13-4 lead to start things off, no team ever led by more than seven points in a game that consisted of seven lead changes.
It was the first true adversity the seventh-ranked Gators have faced in the early going this season, and they never once looked rattled. Head coach Mike White expressed his pride following the game.
“We had several opportunities to fold, and our guys were extremely resilient and tough,” White said. “I thought we made some big strides today in those departments, as well as how we defended and rebounded a team that’s really good, really talented, really prepared.”
Coming into this tournament, there was no real way to know how the Gators would perform against stronger competition. Those questions were answered on Friday as Florida defeated last year’s national runner-up in what was practically a home game for the Bulldogs.
Gonzaga fans made the short trip to show out in full force, making the environment not even feel like that of a November tournament.
“We just had to fight,” said junior guard Jalen Hudson. “Coach White kept saying ‘It’s just us. It’s just us in here.’ We just had to fight. That’s it. And we never stopped.”
Hudson led the fight with a 35-point performance. He was lights out, making eight of Florida’s 17 three-pointers on the night.
He had just four points in the first half of the game, but seemed to make every single shot when the Gators needed it from there on out. He was responsible for 11 consecutive Florida points over a span of eight minutes in the second half.
His presence was the most important in the second overtime period as he combined with senior guard Chris Chiozza to hit some timely threes and give Florida a lead it would not lose.
“He [White] just tries to install confidence in me,” Hudson said. “He just tells me to shoot with a lot of confidence. My guys were finding me, and it wasn’t just me. Everybody hit big shots to win.”
While his shooting kept Florida in the game, White said he was most impressed with Hudson’s defense in the final minutes. With 19 seconds on the clock, he got up just high enough to get his fingertips on a Gonzaga attempt at a jumper. That play essentially sealed the game.
Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen also put on strong performances. Chiozza poured his heart out on the court to get a career-high 26 points as well as 10 assists and eight boards. Allen had 23, and his 11 made free-throws gave Florida the advantage in that area.
The Gators did not have a strong inside game against a much larger Gonzaga team. The Bulldogs held a 52-24 advantage there, but Florida made up for that in other ways.
This team knows what it is right now, and it is playing to its strengths.
“They were definitely bigger than us, definitely had bigger guys,” Hudson said. “But the way we look at it is, they have to guard us, too. We have a lot of guys who can make plays and shoot the ball, so they had to guard us as well.”
It may have taken a little more time to get there, but the Gators finished with their fourth 100-plus point performance in five games this season.
With the win, Florida’s offensive weapons now have the opportunity to matchup with the No. 1 team in the country. Duke has not played its best basketball in the Phil Knight Invitational, but it should bring its A-game for Sunday’s contest.
The Gators will get nearly two full days to rest up and prepare after a mentally and physically exhausting win over the Bulldogs.