In the beginning it was sloppy, skittish and disconnected basketball. By the end, it was much of the same dominance onlookers have been observing all season. The No. 1 Florida Gators (30-2) extended their school-record winning streak to 24 games with a 72-49 victory over the Missouri Tigers (22-11).
Much like the last time these two teams met –a 68-58 UF victory, the game was close at halftime. That night, Missouri went into the intermission up three points, Friday afternoon the game was tied at the break after a Ryan Rosburg dunk at the buzzer. The Gators hadn’t played a game in six days and it showed early with two turnovers and no made field goals in the first 3:16 of the game.
“There were a lot of things leading up to this game that set itself up for us not to play well,” head coach Billy Donovan said after the game. “We had talked about a lot of those things. One was having a week off. Playing a noon game on Saturday and not playing until Friday here at 1. There was a lot of time. ”
The Tigers were able to control the game in the early going despite being less than 24 hours removed from a double overtime win over Texas A&M. At half UF was 50% from three-point range (6-12) but were only 21.4% shooting from two-point range including three misses inside the arc from forward and leading scorer Casey Prather. A positive for UF going into the break was offensive rebounding. The Gators had seven offensive boards in the opening stanza with Forward Dorian Finney-Smith matching the Tiger’s total with three of his own.There were things to correct in the locker room, and UF was able to do that thanks to senior leadership.
“Well, I think we have got a group that is pretty cerebral,” Donovan said. You can talk about things that we need to change or adjust and they’re pretty good at doing that. At least from a coaching perspective, I feel like I’ve got a lot of leeway and I can do a lot of different things with them because they’re pretty bright.”
In the second half the Gators asserted themselves and placed their foot on the gas down the stretch. With 10:03 left in the game senior Will Yeguete made a layup assisted by freshman Kasey Hill. Wilbekin then proceeded to steal the ensuing inbounds pass, pass back to Yeguete who gave it back to Wilbekin in the corner and the point guard nailed an open three. The five-point swing would be the turning point in the game, for UF, who had scored nine points in the half up until Yeguete’s layup, then ripped off seven in 47 seconds after center Patric Young hit a jumper with 9:16 left in the game. In a short time the Tigers’ four point deficit was nine. Missouri head coach Frank Haith took a frustrated timeout and the rout was only beginning.
“Whoever the other guard was did a good job of denying,” Wilbekin said. “And the referee’s count was counting down, so I knew that [Missouri guard Jabari] Brown was going to go try to make a break for the ball. I was able to get there before him and save it to Will.”
Wilbekin would end the game with 15 points — tied for the UF scoring lead with sophomore Michael Frazier II. The SEC Player of the Year saw his final points come right after a UF timeout with seven minutes to go, his three pointer pushed the Gators’ lead to 14 and was one of the final nails in the Missouri coffin. As for the sweet shooting guard, Frazier hit five threes to account for his total point output, two of which he nailed after the game’s turning point, one of which being a dagger in transition that pushed Florida’s lead to 21 at the time.
From Yeguete’s layup until the end the Gators outstripped the Tigers 32-13. Then it was over, and as Florida moves on to face the winner of the South Carolina-Tennessee game Missouri heads home with a selection Sunday to sweat out on the bubble.