One year better

The situation on Wednesday night in Athens had already presented itself to the Gators last season in Stegeman Coliseum. Coming off a pounding of Georgia in Gainesville, the Gators went to Athens and dropped a 14-point decision. In the first four minutes of Wednesday's game, it looked like the same could outcome. The veteran Florida team turned it into a blowout win instead.

"I'm not so sure last year's team wins that game," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said before his team practiced Thursday afternoon. "I see growth. Things were not going well. I knew Georgia was going to come out.

"I told our guys, ‘how would you feel if you played on someone's court and lost by 25-30 points? You'd come out, play and be aggressive.' We knew they were going to do that."

The Bulldogs came firing out of the gates and took an 11-2 lead at the first media timeout of the game. Florida walked back to the bench, players with hands on their hips, looking shell shocked at what was happening.

In recent years, the Gators might've backed down. They could've sat back and watched as Georgia put together its best game of the season and took down the No. 8 team in the country.

This year, Florida responded.

The Gators secured a 17-point win, their closest conference win in five games this season, and won the final 36 minutes of the game 62-36. The story was the same as it has been multiple times this year. The defense tightened up, causing fast break opportunities for the Gators, and the perimeter shots soon began to fall.

"Defensively, we're more focused than we were last year," Florida junior forward Will Yeguete said. We talked about it at halftime. Coach Donovan had a strong speech at halftime. We had to make sure we were guarding them, and that's how we got back in the game.

"We understand that it's all about defense for us. When we play defense, all of our shots will start falling after that."

The Southeastern Conference hasn't shown much resistance to Florida early in conference play. The Gators are 5-0 in conference play for the first time in school history — joining the 1961, 2003 and 2007 teams to do that. The Gators have won their five conference games this season by an average of 24.8 points.

The Gators travel to Mississippi State (7-9, 2-3 SEC) this Saturday in another road game that could be a challenge. With four of the first six conference games coming on the road, the Gators will get to play more home games starting soon. But there's still one more road challenge looming on Saturday.

The important thing Florida proved on Wednesday night is one Donovan has been waiting on. They're different than past years.

"You have to prepare your team so that when things aren't going well, how are you going to respond?" Donovan asked. "It was good to see our guys respond the way they did coming out of the half, because it was not a good first half for us by any stretch of the imagination."


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