Gators Making Strides

There was every reason to expect the Florida Gators to struggle with Stetson on Tuesday. The Gators had played in South Florida on Sunday night and were playing an early afternoon game in front of a small rather indifferent crowd in the O'Dome. Stetson came in having taken FSU down to the wire in Tallahassee, just as Florida had. They also had a respectable close loss (78-65) to Miami.

It looked like the Gators were not going to let that happen, taking a 20-7 lead after a little more than nine minutes. But the Gators stumbled along most of the rest of the half and Stetson had several possessions to tie the game or take the lead. A 7-0 run to end the half including a three-pointer by Walter Hodge at the buzzer made it a 37-28 score at the half and it was never close the rest of the way. Florida ended up with a 78-57 win, their fifth in a row. The Gators are now 11-2 on the year with two games left in the pre-conference portion of the schedule.

It's becoming more and more apparent that Walter Hodge is a big key for this team. The senior guard was almost flawless with 13 points and five assists with just one turnover. He made all five of his shots, three from outside the arc. Hodge has scored in double figures six times this season and Florida is 6-0 in those games averaging 82 points. He gives Florida another dimension when he is a threat from long range and look for his productivity to mirror the team's once SEC play begins.

On the down side Stetson showed a lot of SEC teams what they should do when they play the Gators. Stetson pounded the offensive glass, grabbing 20 offensive rebounds. They also drove the ball to the basket, frequently beating Florida defenders off the dribble. You can count on those being two points of emphasis in the days ahead as Florida prepares for a very important contest.

Key Game Saturday

Florida has played just three games against teams ranked in the top 100 according to hoops stats guru Ken Pomeroy (kenpom.com). They beat Washington, but lost to both Syracuse and Florida State. The non-conference schedule is better than last year's but most in that they are playing more teams in the 100-250 range and fewer 250 and above. Come NCAA Tournament selection Sunday, however you need some good wins.

North Carolina State could, potentially be a good win. The Wolfpack will come to Gainesville with just two losses and a rating of 85. That's not great, but it's good enough to help. The Gators need a second non-conference win they can hang their hat on and this is the last chance to get one. They play Longwood next Tuesday but that team (No. 301) will hurt Florida's standing no matter what the final score turns out to be.


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