Speights, Calathes Lead Gators

The Florida Gators took another step closer to advancing to New York City with a dominating 82-54 win against Creighton at the O'Connell Center. The win earns UF a trip to Tempe, Ariz. To face the top seed in their bracket of the NIT, Arizona State. The Gators face the Sun Devils on Tuesday night.

For the second consecutive game, the Gator defense was the difference maker, holding a very good outside shooting team to just 40 percent shooting for the game. Creighton made just 4-of-20 3-point baskets, which is more than half their season average.

"They knew the 3-point line was going to be critical," Gator coach Billy Donovan said. "Creighton didn't shot the ball particularly well from behind the arc."

Just as big as the Gator D was Nick Calathes who recorded the second triple-double in Gator history. The freshman guard was sensational, grabbing 13 rebounds, scoring 11 points and dishing out 11 assists. Corey Brewer is the only other Gator to post a triple-double.

"It's a great honor, but I would also take a 30-point win over that any day," Calathes said. "My teammates helped me. They found me so I could take open shots and I did a lot of the little things like rebound."

"I'm personally happy for Nick," Donovan said. "The thing that I'm happy about is that he had a great game, but he only took seven shots. He impacted the game in a lot of different ways."

Walter Hodge let Calathes know that he was closing in on the triple-double when Calathes had nine points and need just one bucket to complete the feat. With 6:08 left, Calathes ran out and made a fast break layup for his 11th point. And then 20 seconds later, he hit Marreese Speights to complete an alley ‘oop for his 11th assist. But it was the Gators' team defense that was the difference against the Jays.

"We played great defense as a team and that was the focus," Calathes said. "We just have to keep coming in with the same mindset and continue to play as a team."

"These guys know that they have to play defense," Donovan said. "I don't think they didn't know that you have to play defense, but throughout the season they were learning how to play defense as a team."

The Gators jumped out to an early 8-0 lead and never looked back. Creighton missed their first five shots and didn't score until four and a half minutes into the game. Both Calathes and Hodge knocked down 3s to start the game, but it was the Gator defense that led the way.

Over the next five minutes, the Jays worked their way back into the game, driving to the basket and taking advantage of Florida's aggressive perimeter defense. With 10:38 left in the first half, Florida led 15-12.

But Creighton would go on a six minute scoring drought and the Gators went wild. Florida ran off 14 straight points to take a 29-12 lead at the 4:41 mark. Speights brought the O'Dome crowd to life when he was on the receiving end of Calathes' first alley ‘oop pass to the big man to get the run started. Jai Lucas also knocked down a 3-pointer and scored five during the run.

Cavel Witter's jump shot with 2:39 left in the half narrowed the Gator lead to 10 points, but Florida scored the last eight points of the half to lead 39-19 at the break.

"They had some pretty good looks in the first half that they didn't knock down," Donovan said. "[Dan] Werner even said to me ‘Coach, we're giving up looks.' And I thought it was good for him to recognize that from the bench."

But the second half continued much like the first. The Gators raced out on a 10-2 run to start the half, extending the lead to 49-21 just two minutes into the half. The Gators took high percentage shots, making 54.8 percent of their second half attempts.

Hodge led the Gators with 15 points, and Speights finished with 14 points, making 6-of-8 shots. Lucas also played well scoring 11 points and Jonathan Mitchell scored eight points playing 17 minutes off the bench.

Florida's defensive intensity has been at its best all season since a horrible effort against Alabama in the SEC Tournament.

"They've had some resiliency and commitment to get better," Donovan said. "I'm still not sold as a coach. They still have to improve, but for the last week, it's a little better to see them playing at least close to their best ability."

Florida faces Arizona State on Tuesday for the right to go to New York City and the NIT's Final Four.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski

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