It was a home debut to remember for Florida. The Gators played their first home game in months in the new Exactech Arena on Wednesday night and it was quite the homecoming. UF shot lights out as the side rolled past Little Rock 94-71.
“It was incredible. Incredible," said Florida head coach Mike White about the atmosphere. "It’s such an honor to be such a tiny part of all this. Just to be able to compete in an arena, in an environment like this, so thankful. Our players are so thankful to our administration, to Jeremy (Foley) and I know Scott [Stricklin] has taken it over obviously and will do a tremendous job and will give us tremendous support as well. But Chip Howard and Mike Hill and Lynda Tealer, everyone that made it possible through our administration. But financially, some donors stepped up to make this happen as well. Our construction people obviously did an amazing job cosmetically, but also with regard to timing. It’s incredible how quickly it got done, and then I think it got done because of a lot of history and tradition that’s taken place around here.
"With all of the success that not only our basketball program and Coach Donovan and Coach Kruger and all the great players that have played here — not only for us, but in other sports that have utilized this building — I think you’ve got to tip your hat to all those people that paved the way for something like this to happen. It was awesome. It was awesome. It was rocking in there. It was fun, it was loud and our guys fed off of it from the tip. I thought our guys played with tremendous energy and confidence and without question this new energy level because of the new arena and playing in front of our fans for the first time all season was a big factor.”
The Gators came out of the gates hot against the Trojans, opening the game going 21-of-28 from the field.
"Our guys settle in for sure when shots are made, but especially when arguably your best scorer makes shots," said White. "I think it’s just natural for teams, when you combine that with Devin Robinson getting into a similar type rhythm and having a similar time aggressive confidence to him, I think that that led to probably as confident a 40 minutes offensively as we’ve played against a really solid defensive program. Then Devin obviously has an ability to shoot over you. I thought Kasey Hill made great decisions in ball-screen offense and got guys shots.”
“We were just in a really good rhythm," White added on the offense. "I thought our guys played really aggressive and they played really confidently. Again, I’d like to credit the environment. The environment just, I think, led to that.”
According to White, this game was probably the best 40 minutes, at least offensively, he has seen his team play.
"Offensively we were pretty good," said White after his team shot just under 70 percent in the first half. "We weren’t quite as crisp defensively. I thought we were pretty good defensively in the first half. Credit Little Rock in the second half, they did a good job of finishing through contact. … I thought with maybe 8 minutes or so we regained some of that defensive energy. But we’re all trying to do the same thing. Can we get that 40 minutes offensively and then play as well as we have in five or six games defensively for 40? … That’s what we’re searching for. That’s the challenge for our guys, and they understand that. They know that we weren’t quite as on it, if you will. We weren’t quite as crisp, but in our guys’ defense, that’s their first experience seeing that ball go through the hoop that many times. Now you’ve got to get to the point where hopefully we see that more often, and while you’re seeing that, can you maintain your defensive energy, intensity, focus, communication level.”
The Gators shot 59.6 percent from the floor in the win over the Trojans and recording 16 triples, two shy of a school record. White and his team will now take a break for a few days for the holidays before returning to work next Monday.
"I’m ready for a break," he said. "I’ll probably start cringing tomorrow when we’re traveling to go see family. Right now it’s about, hey, let’s get away from it and the players are the same way. I think it will be easier for them at that age to stay away from it mentally and to check out for a couple days, and they deserve it. They need it. For us as a staff, I’m sure it’s like this for all staffs, but it would be hard to really let loose and get away from it. We’ll be watching a ton of film on ourselves and the next opponent.”
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