Three-point shooting sparks No. 1 Florida

The Gators blew through their first 15 games of Southeastern Conference action without the benefit of the three-point shooting that carried Florida teams in recent years. It returned on Saturday in the O'Connell Center. Led by hot starts from Michael Frazier and Scottie Wilbekin, the Gators pulled away from LSU early and never looked back, cruising to a 79-61 win.

"The pace of the game was going," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We had pretty much really good looks from behind the line. They went in for us. There were so many threes available, and it was good to see the ball go in the basket."

The win served as Florida's 31st straight overall and 21st straight at home. It was the 27th win of the season, the most for any Florida team during the regular season.

Florida came into Saturday tied for sixth in the conference in three-point percentage, hitting 34.3 percent from long range, but it didn't look like it in the first half. Taking out Scottie Wilbekin's desperation, full-court heave as time in the first half expired, the Gators shot 64.3 percent (9-14) from long distance.

Florida finished the day shooting 56.5 percent (13-23) for three.

Michael Frazier, who has done most of his three-point damage in conference play during the second half of games, paced the Gators by going 4-6 from long range in the first half. He didn't attempt a three-pointer in the second half.

DeVon Walker and Wilbekin each hit both of their first-half attempts, while Dorian Finney-Smith hit the other three.

"We shot great today," Wilbekin said. "It's not going to be like that every night, so we have to still keep playing defense. If we do both of shoot great and play defense, it'll be a great game for us."

Florida jumped out to an 8-0 lead behind back-to-back three-pointers from Wilbekin and Frazier, forcing LSU head coach Johnny Jones to burn a 20-second timeout just 2:46 into the game.

The onslaught continued, as the Gators hit five three-pointers in the first 8:14 of action, pushing the lead to 19-7. The Gators hit five of their first six three-pointers to steal any potential momentum away from the LSU sideline.

"It was very important because it helped spread the floor a little more and allowed us to go inside," Florida forward Casey Prather said. "It spread the floor, which always helps us.

The three-point shooting carried Florida in the first half, but it didn't go away in the second half. The Gators went 4-9 from behind the three-point line in the second half to squash any LSU hopes for a comeback.

The issues for the Tigers' defense came in transition. LSU big men Jordan Mickey and Johnny O'Bryant III got back in transition, but their eyes were in the paint while trying to keep the Florida post players from getting position. The Florida guards beat the LSU backcourt up the floor, opening up good looks that served to be the difference in the game.

The Gators took four less three-pointers in the second half. They didn't need the points, but it also opened up driving lanes and created one-on-one matchups down low for Patric Young.

"It opens up the paint for drives," said Dorian Finney-Smith, who went 4-8 from long range. "It also helps with Pat posting up. If they're covering a shooter, Pat is wide open in the paint. It happened two times in a row.


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