Defense propels win in season opener

The Gators didn't waste time putting their second attempt at a season opener out of reach. Florida put together multiple scoring runs in the first half, but it was the defense that stole headlines and changed records. The Gators allowed just nine first-half points, their fewest ever allowed in a half in the shot clock era while cruising to an 84-35 win over Alabama State.

"We've tried to really make an emphasis on being better defensively," Billy Donovan said after the Gators won their 22nd straight home opener. "Our guys are committed to at least working at it and trying to get better at it. They missed a lot of shots, but the shots we forced them to take was impressive to me from the bench. They were taking tough, challenged twos, and they didn't make those."

The first half was a mixture of tenacity from No. 10 Florida on defense and a lack of scoring threats for Alabama State. The Hornets shot just 8% (2-25) from the field and 11.1% (1-11) from behind the three-point line in the first half while turning the ball over 14 times.

With a 15-5 lead just over five minutes into the game, the Gators turned the game into a highlight marathon. Florida went on a 22-0 run that included six dunks, three of them from Patric Young.

The long two-point shots that Alabama State missed created long rebounds that put Florida into transition.

"A lot of times in our game of basketball with the three-point line, the things you try to eliminate are easy baskets, layups, post moves and the three-point line," Donovan said. "The shots you want teams to try to take against you are tough twos. We forced them to take tough twos, which helped us to get out on the break and get the ball inside to Patric."

There was some worry from the Florida coaches going into Sunday's game. After an emotional two-day experience on Naval Station Mayport at the end of last week, it was draining for the Florida players. They created memories and learned lessons from the servicemen and servicewomen on the ship that stayed in their minds on the way back to Gainesville.

Florida had a light practice on Saturday when the football game ended, and Donovan saw a sloppy team on the court.

The defensive effort was the perfect carryover Donovan wanted after allowing just 23 points to Georgetown in Friday's game on the USS Bataan that was cut short. The Florida head coach expressed concerns in the preseason about his team's defense. Donovan has always complimented the team's potential on defense, but he didn't see the effort in the exhibition win over Nebraska-Kearney to make him believe the team was where it could be.

The Gators are only three halves into the season, and two of them have been against an offensively challenged Alabama State team, but the effort has taken a step in the right direction.

"Our circumstances or the challenge that presents itself cannot be a motivating factor to who we are as a team," Donovan said. "We played Nebraska-Kearney and it's an exhibition game, and we've got some guys coming out that are like, ‘this game doesn't stimulate me.' It shouldn't matter who you're playing against. The fact you're playing should stimulate you."

The rebounding also took a step forward. The Gators don't have as much size with Casey Prather (concussion) still out, but the unit rebounded well against an undersized unit, winning the boards 50-30.

Patric Young led the way with 12 rebounds to go along with 12 points for his fifth career double-double, while Will Yeguete had seven to go along with six from Kenny Boynton and Michael Frazier.

"We had a lot of intensity," said Florida guard Kenny Boynton, who led the team with 22 points. "We knew we were going to have great intensity. We were excited to play."

The Gators will get two days of practice to prepare for Wednesday when they host No. 23 Wisconsin. The Badgers opened their season on Sunday with an 87-47 win over Southeastern Louisiana.

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