A slow start in terms of finishing on offense was offset by consistent intensity throughout the game Saturday. With an 8-7 score in favor of the Gators with seven minutes gone in the first half, the offensive production picked up a bit.
The Gators and Sooners jockeyed to a 20-20 tie with 12 minutes gone in the game, before Florida started creating turnovers, making shots, and just executing at a high level. Over the last eight minutes of the first half, Florida would muscle its way to a 43-28 lead heading into the locker room.
“I want to say about 10 minutes in it was nip and tuck where we couldn’t get a stop where even when they weren’t scoring, we were fouling,” Florida head coach Mike White said on the Gators’ IMG Radio Network after the contest. “We had half our team on the bench in foul trouble. We weren’t moving our feet quite as well. We had some inattention to the scouting report in a couple of areas… shot fakes after the bounce that we weren’t quite disciplined enough. We took a couple of gambles in front of us by a teammate and we come over and hack and foul… just miss a block out which led to a basket. When we cleaned those things up, I thin k the last 30 minutes of the game, we were terrific. I think the best defense we’ve played all year. I am really proud of that effort.
After building to a 30 point lead, the Sooner effort picked up a bit and they fought back to get within 13. Florida closed the game on a 17-2 run in final five minutes to finish with the final 84-52 score.
“Proud of our guys,” White said. “If you think about it, it was a week ago we had our toughest loss of the year at home and to bounce back the way that we did and the fashion that we played on the road in terms of the score differential, the defensive effort, the rebounding effort today, the way we’re shooting the ball… I wish we could bottle it up and have some carryover in the Exactech Arena on Thursday night.
The Gators were led by sophomore Kevarrius Hayes who had a career high 20 points to go with nine rebounds. Hayes has been a bright spot for White since the off-season with his continuous effort. He added three blocks to his stats line and there are so many other things that don’t show up that White also loves.
“I am not sure we call a play for him all year to throw it in the post and let him go to work,” White said of Hayes. “It’s another example like it was for Eric Hester last game and Devin Robinson at LSU, Kevarrius just does his job. He sprints to ball screens. He dives when he’s supposed to dive. He sprints the floor. He sets good screens. All of his cuts, he cuts with authority. He plays very hard. He’s supposed to go to the offensive glass every time and he does. He does because he’s supposed to. He’s very accountable, dependable, and he had a really good game.”
The Gators followed up a 24 assist night on Wednesday at LSU with a 16 assist night and only nine turnovers. Point guards Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza were great floor generals and combined for 12 assists and just two turnovers over a team that was overmatched with quickness.
“Moving it more… our guys have become more bought into playing together and not holding it,” White said. “Not having ball stoppers. Just executing our simple ball screen continuity. Sometimes when we’ve had some stagnancy in the past, sometimes that’s on the coach, maybe on us calling too many numbers. Our guys have just found a really good rhythm from transition offense flowing into our ball screen motion… not worried about who’s getting shots when and where, just letting it come and taking what the defense gives us. We were in a very good rhythm today.
“Hill and Chiozza) were really good off of ball screens, in space, making decisions, drawing two guys, drawing a crowd, being strong with the ball in crowds at times, and reading those help defenders… meaning hitting our dive guy, hitting our lift guy, throwing skips. We played with aggression in transition and yet still played solid in terms of our decision making. Both of those guys were really good. Kasey was terrific, Cheez was as well.
Senior swing man Canyon Barry was back after missing a game due to a sprained ankle. Barry made a quick impression on a three pointer, shortly after being inserted in the game and finished with 15 points and five rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
“We didn’t know if he was going to play and we’re glad he did,” White said of Barry. “He’s worked hard with Duke (team trainer Duke Werner). Duke is the best in the business, to get back on the floor in a pretty quick fashion. I know (his ankle) was pretty swollen the other day. Obviously it is great to have him back.”
The offensive effort was strong, but as usual that was fueled by a very good defensive effort on the night. Florida shot 43% from the field and kept the Sooners to a 28% shooting effort. Oklahoma shot just 6% from the three-point line on 1-16 shooting.
The Sooners leading scorer at 19 points per game is Jordan Woodard. Florida used matchup changes on Woodard, sometimes leaving forward Justin Leon to guard him and the Sooner’s sharp shooter was left scoreless on the night.
The Gators finished with four players in double figure scoring… Hayes (20), Barry (15), Robinson (13), and Hill (12).
Florida is now 3-1 in the SEC / Big-12 Challenge and is the only SEC team with three wins in the four year old competition. Oklahoma was perfect at 3-0 before losing to the Gators in the contest.
The Gators head home to the Exactech Arena Thursday to face Missouri (5-14, 0-7 SEC). Florida has played better on the road it seems this season and they have played many more games away from home than in Gainesville.
White is looking to change that.
“It’s been a really productive week obviously,” he said. “I feel much better about where we are as a team than we did a week ago. I’m just really proud that coming off of our toughest loss this season, guys took ownership, and guys spent a lot of time talking to each other. We addressed some deficiencies, we took ownership. We re-committed to things that are most important to this team. Guys in these last two games have played really well together. Our unselfishness is through the roof right now. How do we maintain that in Gainesville? How do we have carryover? We’ve played well away from home all year, not quite this well, but we’ve got to match that in Gainesville.”