Hot shooting Gators manhandle Auburn

Gainesville, Fla. - All of a sudden the gang that couldn’t shoot straight is making shots.

For the third straight game, the Florida Gators (13-6, 5-2 SEC) found the range with their shots and the results were staggering. Starting out with a 14-20 streak straight out of the blocks, the Gators overwhelmed Auburn (9-9, 3-4 SEC), 95-63, before a crowd of 11,230 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

The Gators hit 56.9% from the field overall on 33-58 shooting and turned in a 9-19 performance (47.4%) from the 3-point line. In the last three games, the Gators have hit 83-165 overall from the field and 29-60 from the 3-point line.

A lot of their offensive points off of assists, not only making the extra pass at times, but making the right pass at the right time. The Gators had 20 assists with point guards Chris Chiozza (8) and Kasey Hill (4) leading the way.

“I think for the most part, all year we’ve been willing passers, not always real accurate passers… 16 turnovers again is unfortunate,” Florida head coach Mike White said after the contest.  But, for the most part we are a really unselfish team. Both point guards are really good passers and when you have a point forward like Dorian Finney-Smith, it makes for a really good passing team.”

And, as if hitting 56.9% from the field wasn’t impressive enough, Saturday night the Gators found the range at the foul line, hitting 20-24 – 83.3%. That’s not bad for a team that came into the game hitting 61.1% for the season.

“It was much needed… if you are going to win games in the SEC, you have to convert from the foul line,” White said. “Credit our guys. Kevarrius Hayes, John Egbunu, KeVaughn Allen, Dorian Finney-Smith, they’ve just spent more time in the gym. They know it’s been a huge deficiency of ours, and they stepped up tonight. Hopefully we have more nights like this moving forward.”

It was a dominating performance by the Gators and not just on the offensive end. Defensively, they held Auburn to 24-67 from the field (35.8%) and 6-24 (25%) from the 3-point line.

The Gators trailed 5-2 when Finney-Smith got things going with a pair of 3-pointers, a layup and a dunk as part of a 23-3 run that saw them take charge of the game. Auburn never recovered.

Finney-Smith, who scored 15 first half points and finished the game with 24 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2  blocked shots and 1 steal, said, "We made shots. We got stops. We got in transition. We got good looks and we shot the ball with confidence tonight. We're shooting the ball a lot better right now.”

And when the Gators weren’t bombing away from the outside they were pounding it to John Egbunu down low. Egbunu had 12 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocked shots as the Gators scored 44 points in the paint.

Egbunu has become a real force and is really learning the intricacies of how to play the center position at this high level of offense, his teammates are learning as well.

“Our offensive focus probably about a month ago shifted to be more paint touches, inside touches, whether it was to John, or Doe Doe, or grinding it… trying to shoot more inside out as we really struggled shooting it from outside early in the year from three from perimeter passes or transition threes.

“It wasn’t necessarily more of a plan to throw it inside versus Auburn, it’s just the first time in John’s career that he’s being asked to be a guy that we play through. Not that we play through him for 40 minutes, but he’s learning how to play from better post position, how to get better post position, playing more efficiently when he gets the basketball, holding his seals and using his big body, strength, and his length.

“Our wings and guards are doing a better job of getting him the ball in position and John is doing a better job of earning that position.”

“I think Dorian is playing like an all-league player, it probably starts with him. John has made a big jump with his game. We’ve done a better job of getting those two guys the ball in better spots. Therefore, I think we’re getting better shots.

“If you could compliment with our shooting percentages and or free throw percentages, with the way that we value the ball and decisions that we made in the first 2/3 of the season, now you have something to work with offensively.

“We have to get back to valuing the basketball and making better decisions, especially when we’re playing fast.”

As much as the offensive game for Florida is what has needed to get jump started, the defense has been pretty consistent through the season and playing many of the countries’ best players.  Saturday night was no different with Kareem Canty on the court for Auburn. Auburn had a weapon that could change the game in their favor at any moment. Guards Hill and Chiozza made sure that didn’t happen.

“I thought he was really good,” White said of Hill who was in Canty’s face most of the night it seemed. “He really showed his athleticism and he played really hard. We have to get our turnovers down with all of our perimeter guys, but I thought defensively he and Chiozza were terrific. (Canty) is a handful to defend. We wanted to force him to shoot tough two’s. For him to not make a three was huge for us because he can change the game in 3-4 shot attempts from 24 feet. I thought Kasey and Chris did a terrific job on Canty.

White loved the performance from every aspect except the all too common turnovers.

“It’s about as consistent as we have been,” he said. “I just don’t remember a 3-4 minute lapse or spurt where we weren’t very good… at least from an energy level. The first few minutes of the second half I thought we came out ready to defend again, so I thought we took a step with our maturity and our focus.

Auburn’s usually vocal and jovial head coach Bruce Pearl was pretty short and quiet after the game, but gave the Gators credit for the slaughter that happened before his eyes.

"They physically dominated us inside, kind of had their way with us,” Pearl said. “They got the ball inside and they shot it great. They just played very, very well together, and we didn't put up much resistance. They got whatever they wanted inside, anytime they wanted it."

Now White has the unenviable task of getting his team’s attention and letting them know that they have to play consistently like they did Saturday night. It has been a team lately that hasn’t thrived on winning, usually following a good performance by a bad one.

“It seems like every time we play 2-3 good games in a row, I don’t think we can go to four,” he said shaking his head. “I thought we were fortunate to get a win the other night (against Mississippi State). Tonight was one of our better performances. As we head into this week, we better be on it. We better have a great practice tomorrow.”

The Gators play Vanderbilt on the road on Tuesday at 9 p.m. in a game that can be seen live on ESPNU.

“We are heading into a game in Nashville that is going to be very challenging for us,” White said. “Our preparation is going to have to be as good as it’s been all year.” 

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