Florida's 12-game winning streak is not just the first time the Gators have opened a season at 12-0 in school history, but the Gators' first-ever streak of 12 wins in a row. That number figures to grow to 13 games Monday when Florida plays Morgan State in the final tuneup before the SEC schedule begins.
It's been quite a streak for the Gators who were thought to be too young and too inexperienced by most experts when the season began. Everyone expected the Gators would improve as the season went along but Kentucky and Alabama were considered the two teams most likely to make it to 2007 with an unbeaten record. The Gators have proven the prognosticators wrong by playing with the kind of unselfishness, intensity and chemistry that has made this team both fun to watch and extremely efficient.
It is the unselfishness that is the real characteristic of this team and that's the chief reason the Gators are so good offensively even though they lost three players (David Lee, Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh) to the NBA off last year's SEC Tournament championship team.
"It's not necessarily always about talent," said Donovan. "Sometimes it's about your players' makeup and sometimes the most difficult coaching part is that it's very difficult to change guys' mindsets when they're 18-19-20 years old. These guys come here with the right mindset, the right focus and they're about the right things. I think these kids try to play the game the right way or at least the way I think the game should be played. It's been a lot of fun coaching them."
Donovan is aware that Florida's lofty ranking and unbeaten record makes the Gators a potential storm the court team by opposing fans should UF fall on the road in the SEC.
"Because we're the only undefeated team in the league we know also we've got a tremendous bulls-eye on our back with everybody we play from here on going forward," said Donovan.
Bulls-eye or no bulls-eye there wasn't much chance that the visiting Rattlers of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference would spring the upset or even make it close, but the Gators did their part to make it interesting by scoring with a variety of three-pointers and high-flying dunks on the offensive end and ratcheting up the defensive intensity like it hasn't been seen this season over a seven minute stretch at the beginning of the second half.
Florida closed out the first half on an 18-3 run for a 49-23 lead but it was a 23-2 run at the start of the second half that bordered on spectacular. Florida's defense was swarming, cutting off all passing lanes and pressuring every dribble.
"I think that's the best defense we've played for a long stretch all year," said Corey Brewer, whose spectacular passing highlighted a game in which the Gators finished with 24 assists on their 32 made shots. Brewer, who just a couple of weeks ago had the first triple-double in Florida basketball history, flirted with another one Saturday. He had eight points, a game-high 11 assists and six rebounds while playing only 28 minutes.
"When we play defense like that so many good things happen," Brewer said. "We get the fast break going and we get a lot of easy shots. At halftime, Coach said we needed to pick up the defense and play with more intensity. The offense was all started with the defense we played."
It was the kind of game that Brewer could have easily scored a lot of points but he was content to set up his teammates. He had only two turnovers to go with those 11 assists.
"Corey Brewer really could have in this game taken a lot of shots," said Donovan, noting that Florida A&M came out in a triangle-and-two defense designed to take Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey out of the offense. "The guy they left open was Corey Brewer. This was a game that he could have easily taken 15 to 20 shots. He turned down so many shots it was incredible but he affected the game in so many ways."
Brewer continually found open teammates for sometimes easy but often spectacular finishes. Three second half plays were indicative of the kind of game Brewer had. Early in the second half, Joakim Noah rebounded a missed shot and kicked to Brewer on the fast break. Brewer could have gone in for a dunk but instead flipped up a perfect alley-oop pass to Al Horford for a thunderous two-hand dunk. A couple of possessions later, Horford got the steal, kicked it to Brewer and Brewer made the perfect pass to Noah for the one-handed dunk finish.
The third assist was part of a series of events that led to FAMU coach Mike Gillespie's ejection from the game. With the shot clock at 10 seconds, Green air-balled a three-pointer that Brewer leapt into the crowd to save, inbounding the ball to Richard. Richard took one dribble then kicked the ball back to Brewer in the corner and Brewer whipped a pass to Humphrey, open from 22 feet on the wing for a nothing but net three that extended the Gators to 66-25 at 15:01.
Gillespie went ballistic because the shot clock was reset on the air ball. He got a double technical foul when he went after the officials following Humphrey's three and that sent him to the locker room early.
Donovan basically called off the dogs completely in the final eight minutes of the game, going with three walkons and two freshmen most of that stretch. There was nothing left to prove. The game was already won and the only thing in question was the final margin. It was a nice win against an inferior team but still, it allowed Donovan to use his bench and get his players plenty of experience. That should prove to be a real plus once the Gators hit the SEC schedule.
"There will be sometimes this year when we look really ugly and we don't play particularly well," said Donovan, "but I really believe our guys are going to play unselfish, play as a team and they're going to play hard."
"Because we're the only undefeated team in the league we know also we've got a tremendous bullseye on our back with everybody we play from here on going forward," said Donovan.
Noah led the Gators with 18 points, the second straight game he's been Florida's leading scorer. Richard had 13 points and nine rebounds while Humphrey and Adrian Moss each had 12.
LETHAL WEAPON 3: Just call junior guard Lee Humphrey "Lethal Weapon 3" because he's become so consistent from beyond the arc that the moment he lets fly with a three-pointer the O-Dome crowd is on its feet with arms raised in anticipation. There were no collective sighs of disappointment for one of his rare misses Friday afternoon. Humphrey was laser-accurate, knocking down all four of his three-balls for 12 points.
Humphrey has bounced back from his worst shooting game of the season (1-5 from beyond the arc against Jacksonville) by hitting nine of his last ten three-balls.
For the season, Humphrey is now 40-72 from beyond the arc for a sizzling 55 percent. The school record for three-point shooting in a season is held by Kenyan Weaks, who was 61-120 (50.8 percent) in 1997-98. Anthony Roberson holds the school record for most three-pointers in a season (99) set in 2003-2004. At his present pace (3.3 thre-pointers per game) and with 18 regular season games plus at least one SEC tournament game remaining on the schedule, Humphrey has a legitimate shot to become the single season leader in both three-pointers made and three-point shooting percentage.
Humphrey is hitting an even 50 percent (7-14) on two-pointers. Amazingly, he's only a 20 percent free throw shooter (1-5 on the season). The last time Humphrey shot a free throw was against Wake Forest in the semifinals of the Coaches Vs. Cancer Tournament in New York. Humphrey has now gone eight consecutive games without attempting a free throw.
HOT SHOOTING RICHARD: Chris Richard's shooting percentage for the season actually took a dive with a 6-9 performance from the field against FAMU. For the season, Richard is 40-49, a scorching 81.6 percent. Richard shot an air ball on an eight-footer in the first half and he missed a chippie when he couldn't decide whether to lay in a missed shot or dunk it.
"I should have just gone ahead and dunked it," said Richard, whose 13 points were a career high. "That was probably the easiest shot I had all night."
The air ball came when he heard teammates telling him to shoot because the shot clock was winding down.
"I heard them on the sideline tell me to shoot it and I rushed that one," said the 6-8, 255-pound power forward from Lakeland.
He said the hot shooting is simply the result of unselfish teammates who are willing to pass the ball to someone who has a better shot.
"Our guys are so unselfish," he said. "We're all looking for whoever has the best shot. It makes scoring easy when everyone's looking for the open man like we are."
ADRIAN MOSS, OFFENSIVE MACHINE: Defense, rebounding and toughness have always been the forte for Adrian Moss, the Gators lone senior. The 6-9, 250-pounder has been Florida's unofficial enforcer since the beginning of SEC play last season, a role he has continued this season. Never known as an offensive option, Moss has become a player opponents have to account for on every possession.
Moss delivered eight critical points in the win over Wake Forest earlier in the year and he had 10 in the win at Providence. Last week, he hit a couple of critical shots in the win at Miami. Friday afternoon, Moss scored a season-high 12 points on 5-6 shooting that included knocking down his first three-pointer of the season.
"What I do is easy," said Moss. "All I have to do is turn around and make a shot because I'm open and our guards are getting the ball to me."
Moss is a career 51 percent shooter. This season he is 21-36 from the field (58.3 percent).
MORE SHOOTING STATS: The Gators were 52.5 percent from the field for the game on 32-61 shooting that included 8-21 from beyond the arc. It was the eighth time in 12 games that Florida has shot better than 50 percent from the field. Florida is hitting 52.9 percent from the field for the season.
Taurean Green's streak of 37 consecutive free throws came to an end in the first half when the first of two foul shots took a victory lap and then popped out. Green would miss another free throw in the second half before hitting his final three.
DEFENSIVE STATS OF NOTE: Florida had 11 steals and five blocked shots. Through 12 games, the Gators have 116 steals (almost 10 per game) and 60 blocked shots (five per game). Brewer leads the team with 28 steals while Noah has 24 blocked shots