It was only the second SEC road win for the Gators all season and they are hard to come by for any team. This one was much needed after a heart breaking loss to Alabama in Gainesville on Saturday. Mike White says even though his team found it hard to make baskets in the first half, they did so many things right in the game that they stayed within striking distance to pull out their 17th win of the season and go to 8-5 in the conference.
“To win on the road in our league is really difficult, especially when you are coming off an emotional loss with a quick turnaround,” White said shortly after the win. “Hopefully it gives us confidence and hopefully it will show our guys what we’re capable of.
“If you take away three-point and free throw shooting, this is one of our best 2-3 performances of the year and to do it from the week we were coming off of speaks to our guys’ character.
“It reminded me of Michigan State. We hit on a high percentage of doing our job. We were really locked in. I thought we played quick, played, fast, and played strong. We were determined to defend at a high level. Again, when you’re not making shots and continue to do that is what we have to do moving forward and more consistently.”
Florida was 1-17 from the three-point line and shot just 24.1% from the field in the first half. It was enough to force a lot of teams to lose their focus and go in the tank. But, Florida bought some time and worked their defense consistently. They held Georgia to 32.3% shooting in both halves of play and picked up their offensive game in the second half shooting both 50% from the field and from the arc.
“We can‘t rely on the ball going through the basket to play hard,” White said. “In our guys’ defense, we’ve struggled a lot of this year offensively and we ride Dorian Finney-Smith with the experience he has. We don’t have a bunch of experienced scorers. We’ve tried to do it by committee, tried to score off of our defense and tried to be as good as we can possibly be.
“In the last two weeks we haven’t been quite as good as we are capable of being defensively. I thought tonight was a great example of doing what you’re supposed to do, doing your job, continuing to play at a high energy level, continuing to play with toughness, defending as well as you can possibly defend whether (the ball) is going in or not.
“At halftime we were 1-17 from three and couldn’t make a free throw. I think we had three turnovers (in the first half). The message was ‘ we are doing a lot of really good things, if we can just make a couple of good shots, but if we let up defensively Georgia will score 70 and I don’t believe we’re going to be able to do that’. Georgia’s a team that executes as well as any team in the country. They are really playing well. Obviously they play better at home like all of us. To hold them to 32% I couldn’t be more proud of our guys’ defensive effort.”
The effort on defense was so good that even without the Gators’ best player Dorian Finney-Smith playing up to his usual self on offense, they mustered a win.
“We hadn’t won many without Dorian doing a lot of damage,” White said. For us to stay the course and take on that ownership and to continue to hold each other accountable defensively and just find a way to do it collectively… outside of KeVaughn Allen having a really good game, everyone else did just enough offensively.”
Allen was slow to start, but stepped it up a notch in the second half hitting three of his four three-point shots in the second half. He ended up with 19 points on 7-13 shooting on the night. Him coming out aggressively in the second half is something White would like to see more from his most skilled offensive player.
“That is huge,” White said about Allen’s aggressive play. “I tell him that 20 times a day. That is his gift. He can go and get baskets. KeVaughn is very consciences. Sometimes we need to prod him a little bit if he misses a couple or if someone hasn’t gotten a touch in the last couple of trips. Sometimes he has too much going on in his mind and sometimes we have to prod him to be really aggressive. ‘I don’t care if you’ve missed your last two or last ten, be aggressive’. That really happens. He was there tonight and hit some huge shots for us. He defended well as well.
Kasey Hill replaced Chris Chiozza in the starting lineup on Tuesday and although his offense struggled after the first couple of minutes of the game, Hill really did some nice things on defense and in running the offense.
“I thought he was really good,” White said. “He did a really god job of staying on the attack and keeping pressure on the defense through transition offense whether they were on makes or misses, even when we didn’t end up attacking. A couple of those possessions led to assists, but several of those possessions led to getting it back out and calling a play. Defensively on J.J. Frazier, I thought he did a really good job.”
Chiozza who replaced Hill earlier in the year in the starting lineup seemed to have no issue coming off of the bench.
“I thought Cheese handled it really well,” White said. “He came in and made some good passes. He stayed on the attack. I like the confidence that both point guards played with. They were very aggressive. Cheese did a pretty good job defensively as well and then he comes in down the stretch and converts at the foul line and that was much needed.”
The Gators travel to Columbia, South Carolina to play the Gamecocks on Saturday at noon in a game televised live on the SEC Network. The Gamecocks are coming off of a tough 72-67 loss at league doormat Missouri Tuesday night and will be foaming at the mouth for a win.