In a game of streaks the Gators got off to a torrid start in the first half leading 30-14 with 8:46 left in the first half. That is when Georgia showed that it wasn’t going to roll over and die against a team they took to overtime in Gainesville just three weeks ago. The Bulldogs went on a 17-1 run to tie it up at 31 with 3:05 on the clock in the first and the Gators were able to stretch it out to a two point lead 35-33 at half.
Florida methodically scored in the second half slowly building their lead from two to the final 12 based on a defense that saw Georgia make just 4 of 26 shots during a large stint of the second half.
The original spurt by the Gators was a little bit surprising given the fact they have played so many games in such a quick span. Their defensive intensity throughout the game was equally surprising.
“Third game in six days, I can’t imagine how tired our guys are because I know myself and our staff are wore down a little bit,” Florida head coach Mike White said following the game on the Gators IMG Radio Network. “We’re looking forward to getting back to Gainesville and getting some sleep tonight.
The Gators swept the season series with Georgia behind four players with double figure scoring and five others that scored at least five points.
Junior guard Chris Chiozza off the bench continued his stellar play of late leading all Gator scorers with 15 points while also adding four rebounds, two assists, and four steals.
“Four steals, got his hands on probably three or four other basketballs just created disruptions,” White said of Chiozza who is two games removed from a triple-double. “Offensively, he’s playing with a lot of confidence and making good decisions. I am very pleased with the way he’s playing and he’s going to continue to earn more and more minutes. He’s about winning just as the other guys we’ve talked about.
The Gators were terrific on defense outside of the five minute span in the first half, allowing the Bulldogs to shoot just 33% for the game.
“It started with Kasey (Hill) and Chris on J.J. Frazier,” White said despite Frazier scoring 18 points. “Justin Leon just threw his body around and played with no regard for his body like he always does on Yante Maten (19 points) and did the best he could. Keith Stone, despite being a little bit out of shape and rusty really helped us win the game. It wasn’t about him scoring tonight, but he did a really good job of mixing it up with Maten as well. Both of our fives did a really good job of altering shots and coming up with big possessions.”
Kasey Hill added 12 points and five assists while senior swing man Canyon Barry added 11 and 5 rebounds. Senior forward Justin Leon was the fourth Gator in double figures scoring 10 points and hauling down 5 rebounds.
The Gators got 31 points, 17 rebounds, four blocks, and four steals off the bench in the contest. Georgia scored just 14 points off the bench.
“It was a game of swings and momentum changes,” White said. “We obviously didn’t play a perfect game, nor did Georgia,” White said. “Early in the second half we were on it defensively as much as you could expect with the quick turnaround and some tired legs to a certain extent and the fact that they really punched us in the mouth in the second half of the first half. In minutes 10-20, we didn’t do a good job defensively. They got into a rhythm oddly enough in transition offense and J.J. Frazer hit a big basket, Yante Maten got going a little bit. For us to really regroup at halftime and to bow up and sit in a stance, increase our intensity level, communication level, get some two-handed defensive rebounds. Really until the last minute of the game, to hold them to the percentage we did in the second half, just showed what we are capable of defensively.”
The victory marked five impressive wins in a row by a Gator team that is currently ranked No. 17 and on their way up if they keep up their current play. White was beside himself with praise in the way his guys approached the game and attacked it.
“We had a lot of reason to lose energy and lose focus and to say, ‘We’ve had a really good run, we’ve already beaten Georgia. This one isn’t quite as important.” he said. “You can come up with those things in your head as an 18 to 22 year old, especially coming off of the emotional game (against Kentucky). But, we challenged our guys. They challenged each other in the locker room before the game that this one’s enormous, that good teams play the same way night-in and night-out regardless of how you played in your last one and the last one’s over with.”
“I think our guys showed a lot of toughness tonight. It is as proud as I have been of our guys all year.”
The Gators return home on Saturday against Texas A&M in a game that will be televised on ESPN2 at noon. His team must prepare for the Aggies, but before that they deserve some much needed rest.
“We’ve got a happy locker room right now and it’s something that is fun to be a part of,” he said. “We have to continue to ride this momentum and now it’s about getting some rest and come on back and continue to improve here with a couple of days of practice.”