HOOPS: Balance returns as Gators blow out Georgia

For the past week, Billy Donovan has preached balance to his team every chance he gets. The game is about sharing the ball, he has told them, being unselfish, making the extra pass. It's that kind of mentality that got the Gators three Southeastern Conference wins to start the league schedule. It's departing from that mentality that led to last week's overtime loss to Tennessee.

"I was proud of our guys," said Donovan, Tuesday night after the Gators pounded out a 70-47 win over Georgia at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. "I really thought our guys tried to play unselfishly."

Proof that the Gators took Donovan's balance message to heart showed in a stat sheet that saw Florida with 13 assists on 21 made baskets and the fact that Anthony Roberson took only 11 shots to account for his game-high 18 points. The Gators shared the ball, moving it around well enough that every player who got in the game (10) got at least two shots.

Donovan had talked during the week of getting the ball inside first to create space on the perimeter for his shooters. Big guys Al Horford (10 points, seven rebounds, 6-8 from the foul line), David Lee (five points, seven rebounds) and Joakim Noah (three points, four rebounds) accounted for 13 of Florida's 29 free throw attempts, plus Matt Walsh and Corey Brewer (ten free throws between them) were effective drawing fouls as they put the ball on the floor.

It was just a much better offensive effort for Florida even though it was a game in which there weren't a lot of points, largely because Georgia milked the shot clock on every possession and refused to let the Gators get into a running game. Playing with a roster than includes seven freshmen and several walkons, the Bulldogs kept with a deliberate offensive attack that forced Florida to grind it out in a slow-tempo defensive game.

It wasn't the style that Donovan wanted to play, but he was pleased that his team maintained its poise and didn't get frustrated.

"We weren't able to get out on the break and we weren't able to force many turnovers," said Donovan. "We were forced to defend for long possessions. I thought our guys showed good discipline and good resiliency."

Florida jumped to a 13-2 lead in the first six minutes of the game and the outcome was really never in doubt. The Gators had plenty of good looks at the basket and even missed several chippies that could have bolstered the offense, but it was not a night for high percentage shooting. Instead, the Gators took their points where they could get them, then concentrated on the defensive end.

The Gators tough first half defense boosted the Gators to a 32-15 intermission lead. The 15 points allowed were the lowest any team has scored in one half in the nine years that Billy Donovan has been the Gators basketball coach.

"I thought we defended very well tonight and thought we rebounded very well," said Donovan. "I thought those were the two biggest differences for us. We went deep into the clock and I think it's hard to hold a team in our league to 15 pounds in a half. We really battled and grinded it out."

Walsh said the Gators would have much preferred an up-tempo style of play, but on this night, that just wasn't to be.

"They were trying to make the game ugly, grind it out and keep the game low scoring," said the 6-6 junior, who scored nine points in his second appearance since torn ligaments in his ankle sidelined him for four consecutive games. "We didn't have a great offensive game, but we showed some improvement defensively and rebounding."

As in last week's loss to Tennessee, Walsh showed that he's still not in the kind of offensive rhythm that he was prior to the injury. He hit only 2-8 from the floor and one of the misses was an uncontested stickback, but the game wasn't a total disaster. Donovan thought his high-scoring junior made some progress toward getting back to where he wants to be, and more importantly, the team showed that it's ready to share the ball once again when he's in the game.

"Matt didn't have a good shooting night," said Donovan. "There were some shots he rushed and forced and he probably needed to be a little more patient. Overall, I thought Matt did a good job for us tonight. His mindset was better. He was trying to keep an aggressive mindset.

"I felt that Lee Humphrey (nine points) played well tonight. Last game when Matt came back Lee didn't have one of his better games and Matt didn't play particularly well. Although Matt didn't shoot the ball well, he did some good things and Lee, I thought, played very, very well tonight."

Roberson scored 13 of his points in the fist half. Unlike the Tennessee game where he basically stayed behind the arc to fire up one three after another (5-18 from three-point range in that game), Roberson showed a willingness to drive the ball to the hoop. His ability to show some versatility in his game paid off with a very efficient shooting night.

Donovan liked the way the 6-1 junior got into the flow of the offense and helped to get his teammates involved in the game.

"Roberson had 18 points but he was 7-11 shooting the ball," said Donovan. "I've always said look at his field goal percentage. The big thing for him is field goal percentage."

Roberson hit 4-7 of his three-pointers, 3-4 from inside the arc with all three of the made shots coming off of drives to the hoop.

"He has a different ability than a lot of other guys on the team because he can get shots and make shots on his own," said Donovan. "I think he did a good job of making decisions on when to shoot and when to pass."

Roberson, who scored over 30 points in wins over Auburn and Vanderbilt and 26 in the loss to Tennessee, was thwarted by a Tennessee defense that challenged nearly every one of his jump shots. Against the Vols, he rarely put the ball on the floor and took it to the rack.

"He has to do that [drive the ball] to be an effective scorer," said Donovan. "When he mixes his game up like that generally he shoots a high percentage."

Florida dominated Georgia in the rebounding department, 44-21.

"Overall, I was pleased with the guys responded, our unselfishness and the way we defended and rebounded tonight," said Donovan, whose Gators take on South Carolina Saturday at the O'Connell Center. "I'm very proud of the way we played."

The Gators improved their record to 12-4 overall and 4-1 in the SEC. Georgia dropped to 7-9 overall, 1-5 in SEC play.

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