Dale Zanine / USA TODAY Sports

Gators' defense leads to 57-53 win over Georgia

A change in defensive philosophy was enough to offset another bad shooting night for the Florida Gators as they travel to Athens and upset Georgia 57-53.

Following a disappointing home loss to Alabama, the Florida Gators continued their offensive woes in the first half of Tuesday night’s game in Athens. Shooting just 7-29 or 24% overall and just 1-17 from three-point land in the first half, the Gators found themselves down by six points at half. It was their ability to play a high level of defense that kept them in the game even that close.

“Our guys delivered with their defensive prowess,” Florida head coach Mike White said shortly after the game on the Gators’ IMG network. “I thought we really guarded as well as we’ve guarded in a long time. We showed how capable we are. It was a huge bounce back win for us after a real emotional loss at home. We had to get one, had to steal one on the road. Another factor was that we really struggled in the last road game, that was against Kentucky and it wasn’t very pretty.

“I am really proud of our physical effort our guys displayed throughout a 40 minute game. We defended at a high level, we communicated at a high level, and defensive rebounded down the stretch. We did just enough offensively. Overall to hold a good offensive team in Georgia at home to 32% on offense is a great accomplishment.”

As bad as the Gators were offensively in the first half missing a lot of wide open shots, Georgia struggled on offense the entire game. Georgia shot just 10-31 in both halves, combining for 20-62 on the night or 32.3%. Forward Yante Maten was averaging 16 points per game coming into the contest, he left with just he finished with just 11 points on 4-17 shooting. Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith shot just 1-10 on the night for seven points, but he was a big part of keeping Maten in check.

“Dorian, despite going 1-10 and 0-6 from three, I thought he did a lot of really good things,” White said. “He really defended at a high level. Yante Maten is really terrific and he goes 4-17 from the field and a lot of that had to do with Dorian and how well he defended.”

Bulldog guard J.J. Frazier was averaging over 15 points a game, but Florida guard Kasey Hill did a nice job keeping him in check and making him work for everything. Frazier finished with 10 points on the night.  

“Kasey really responded well,” White said. “He only had one turnover and made really good decisions offensively. He kept the pressure on the defense throughout the game. He pushed the ball and made good decisions and when we didn’t have anything he pulled it back out. Defensively, he was the game changer. I thought he used his quickness and energy. He played really hard… fought through a lot of very physical screens. These guys are big and strong and set good screens with their bigs. To chase J.J. Frazier around for the entire game, it says a lot about how hard he played.”

Florida also decided to try something different against Georgia. They played more zone defense than they have all season and White was impressed with how well his team was able to perform in the zone.

“We talked about the communication level and ownership our guys took on defensively, we didn’t play much zone all year,” he said. “We threw it out there and just tried it. Our guys were chirping at each other and talking each other through Georgia’s actions and their awareness of where shooters were and post players were… I tip my hat off to those guys.

“Defensively to get these stops in the zone that we’ve hardly played, they were terrific.”

Florida made an offensive adjustment in the second half looking to go more inside to score. Sophomore center John Egbunu exerted himself in the second half and that seemed to be the catalyst for a stronger shooting performance in the half.

White thought the Gators passed on some good shots, but they had those good shots in the first half and they wouldn’t go in. In the second stanza, working the ball around turned into more points and the Gators shot both 50% from the field and three-point range in the second half.

“At times I thought we passed up a couple in the second half that we should have shot from the arc,” White said. “Some of those led to getting the ball to the interior a little bit more. We made extra passes. John Egbunu got himself going early in the second half. We drove it, made some good interior passes, and we were on the offensive glass.

“Overall I thought we were a little more stagnant in the second half, but just finished possessions with more makes. We attacked and drove a little better. In the first half I was really pleased with our ball movement and execution. We just couldn’t make a shot.”

Along with Egbunu, freshman guard KeVaughn Allen got untracked in the second half as well. He hit three of his four three-point shots in the second period and finished with 19 points on the night.

“He got it going there in the second half, he hit a couple of big shots,” White said. “He hit 4-9 from three and I thought he was really good.”

White continues to have to try and figure out how to handle his team and their shooting woes. There have been games where they shot the ball pretty well, and then there are games or big parts of games like the first half of the Georgia contest that they just struggle. The more they miss, the confidence in the next shot seems to dwindle.

“As a staff we’re always concerned of our guys’ mindset and confidence on offense,” White said. “That’s our weakness, at least most of the time and especially on the road. We were playing a team that has a really good defense. Their numbers on the season are really terrific both in their man and zone. They change defenses a lot. They negate you from getting into a great offensive rhythm. At every time out we continued to talk about offenses and adjustments we can make, but most important just continue guarding (on defense) to have any kind of chance.

“To maintain that focus and energy level when the ball isn’t going through the net for you… we did it just enough. When they cut it to seven, we got a couple of baskets there and maintained the amount of stops we were getting defensively.”

It was enough for a huge win at a time when his squad really needed it. Now they need to build on a second half of success to finish off the rest of the SEC schedule.

Florida travels to South Carolina on Saturday for a noon game on the SEC Network.



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