In desperate need of a signature win, Florida Gators basketball got just that on Saturday, defeating a top-10 opponent for the first time in 13 tries with a dominant 88-71 victory over the No. 9 West Virginia Mountaineers at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.
Florida (14-7) put together a dominant offensive performance for the second time in three games as it rained threes and was extremely efficient from the charity stripe. West Virginia (17-4) simply could not get back into the game after a hot start for the Gators.
OnlyGators.com breaks down Saturday’s important win with nine quick-hitters:
It was over when: Though Florida held the lead for 39:49 of the 40-minute contest and was up by nearly 20 late in the game, West Virginia had its opportunities to come back. It was not until a dagger three-pointer by sophomore guard Chris Chiozza with 2:35 to play that all hope was lost for the visitors. The Gators jumped ahead 84-67 and scored eight-straight points to earn a game-high 21-point advantage with 1:03 to play. Chiozza finished 4-of-8 from the field and 2-for-3 from downtown with 10 points, six assists and two steals, though he did cough up the ball a team-high six times.
Holy cow: Just four days after hitting rock bottom in terms of a shooting performance (.329), Florida rebounded with its third-best shooting day of the season (.531). Even better, the Gators hit a season-high 60.0 percent from three and made 77.4 percent of their free throws with 24 makes, their second-best performance at the line this campaign. UF went 13-for-14 from the line in the second half and made six threes over each 20-minute stretch.
When they’re on, be gone: Redshirt senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith was unable to complete a double-double, but he did not disappoint on Saturday. Finney-Smith finished with a game-high 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 5-of-7 from deep. Freshman guard KeVaughn Allen flashed once again with 19 points and four assists, hitting all nine of his free throw attempts in the contest. Allen has now scored 18+ points in six of his last 10 games, while Finney-Smith has scored 17+ in five of his last six.
First half focus: The Gators opened the game with a three and took off on an 8-0 run nearly out of the gate, going up 11-2 on the Mountaineers, which were never able to truly recover. WVU did piece together a 12-0 run on the back of 5-of-6 shooting, cutting UF’s advantage to just four points while junior PG Kasey Hill missed the front end of a pair of one-and-ones and committed a couple miscues, but Florida simply answered back with a half-ending 9-0 run to take a 45-30 lead at the break.
Surprise, surprise: Entering Saturday’s game 5-of-40 from beyond the arc, redshirt freshman G Brandone Francis-Ramirez had only been a liability for Florida to this point in the season. But forced into increased minutes due to injuries and foul trouble, Francis-Ramirez came through by going 3-for-3 from downtown with nine points in 15 minutes.
Important injury: Junior F Justin Leon, who started eight straight games for UF, was held out of action Saturday due to a concussion. Two other Gators took hits to the face in Saturday’s game but eventually returned to the court, as did freshman center Kevarrius Hayes, who appeared to get injured on a play under the basket. Junior PG Kasey Hill, who head coach Mike White said played most of the game with a broken nose, had a difficult night even before the injury. He finished 1-for-6 from the field and 2-for-4 from the line while missing key free throws and making costly mistakes.
What it means: Though Florida has a top 25 RPI and grades out statistically as one of the top 30 teams in the nation, the Gators had previously struggled against the best competition they faced, beginning the season 0-4 against AP Top 25 opponents. Saturday’s victory was huge for Florida’s tournament resume, which lacked a signature win – particularly in a nonconference game – to this point. Considering that West Virginia was UF’s last chance to achieve such a mark, it was an incredibly important effort by the hosts.
Everything else: Redshirt sophomore C John Egbunu only played 12 minutes due to foul trouble (again) but was efficient when in the game, hitting 4-of-4 shots for nine points … also holding his own was sophomore F Devin Robinson, who hit 2-of-3 field goals and 3-of-4 free throws for seven points with five rebounds in 20 minutes of action off the bench … junior C Schuyler Rimmer did not make a basket but played key minutes for Florida’s foul-plagued roster, seeing 20 minutes of action and grabbing a team-high six rebounds … though UF and WVU are two of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the nation, they combined to go 38-for-47 from the line (.809) … an absurd 48 fouls were called in the contest … the Gators had assists on 16 of 26 baskets
Up next: Florida will look to build off this momentum as it hosts Arkansas on Wednesday at 7 p.m. on SEC Network. The Gators are 5-3 in SEC play with 10 games to go, including two against ranked Kentucky and another against the talented Ben Simmons and LSU.
Gator boys got it done tonight 🐊
— Erik Murphy (@e_murphy33) January 30, 2016
Big win 🐊boys ✊🏾
— Taurean Green (@TaureanJGreen) January 30, 2016
Let's go gators great win today .. #gatornation
— Marreese Speights (@Mospeights16) January 30, 2016
— Will Yeguete (@Will15Yeguete) January 30, 2016