Gators Make Statement on Defense

The Gators heard all the talk about Florida State's defense coming into Thursday night's matchup. On paper, it looked like an intriguing matchup between Florida's high scoring offense and the Seminoles tough defense. That perception had the Gators feeling disrespected. The Florida defense sent its own message Thursday about how good it can be.

"There was so much before the game started about their defense, and their defense is good, but there was no talk about our defense," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said on his post game radio show after the Gators recorded an 82-64 win. "I think our guys took it personal that we can really defend."

Florida State came into Thursday's game as the 30th best scoring defense and the third best field goal percentage defense in the country. It was the Gators who put on the defensive clinic. The Seminoles shot 40.7% from the field and 30.4% from behind the three-point line.

The Florida defense was especially suffocating in the first half. The Seminoles scored the first basket of the game 50 seconds into the game, and they followed by going scoreless over the next eight minutes. Florida State started the game 1-for-13 from the field and fell behind 14-2 because of it. Donovan acknowledged that the Gators did have some luck in that stretch.

"We were very fortunate," Donovan said. "They had a couple shots and drives that didn't go their way. They had a couple shots that didn't go their way that led to good things for us. Some of their missed shots turned into fast breaks for us.

"I really think we did a phenomenal job defensively in the half court and full court being disruptive."

The Florida offense made a statement, too. Despite the accolades Florida State's defense brought into the game, the Gators sent those statistics up. Florida scored 82 points, the most any team has scored on the Seminoles this season. The 48.3% that Florida shot from the field is also the highest percentage the Seminoles have allowed this season.

"I think our offense speaks for itself," Donovan said. "We were unselfish, passed it and moved it.

"The one thing is to be disruptive against them. They've got great size and length, so when they come down, run their offense and do what they want to do, they're really hard to stop. We trapped a lot in the half court and used some full court press and zone to keep them off balance."

Donovan did think his team came out tentative. Florida scored just 14 points in the first 12 minutes of the game while they sat back and tried to figure out the Seminoles defensive scheme.

The Gators then began to attack the basket and got to the free throw line. As it has been all season, that became an issue. Florida started 0-for-7 from the free throw line before finishing the game 16-for-17 from the free throw line.

However, Donovan blamed the early struggles on the passive nature Florida played with early in the game.

"I thought it bled over into the free throw line with us being 5-12 there in the first half," Donovan said. "We settled down and realized we needed to play defense, rebound and play unselfish. That's more than the ball going in the basket. We're going to make enough shots if we get enough looks."

Mike Rosario was held out with a back injury, increasing the minutes that sophomore Scottie Wilbekin played. Donovan said he was "really proud" of how Wilbekin played, as the point guard scored five points, recorded three rebounds and made both of his attempts from the field.

Erving Walker became the 12th Florida player to pass the 1,500-point mark in his career.

"It's amazing what a guy at 5-6 can do," Donovan said. "He's going to be a guy that's close to 2,000 points. That's pretty remarkable."

Florida players now get to go home for Christmas on Friday. They will return to Gainesville soon after the holiday to begin preparing for a game at Rutgers on December 29.

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