The team did not save its season this week, but a second-straight hard-fought victory should give the Florida Gators (12-9, 5-3 SEC) hope for the duration of the campaign. Florida beat one of the Southeastern Conference‘s best teams this season in the Arkansas Razorbacks (16-5, 5-3 SEC), staving off a late comeback to earn a 57-56 victory at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.
OnlyGators.com breaks down Saturday’s action with nine quick-hitters:
It was over when: With the ball and a two-point lead with less than a minute to play, Florida went to redshirt junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who clanged an open three off the front rim. Arkansas took possession and called timeout with 30 seconds to play and the ability to take the game’s final shot. The Hogs chose to drive to the hoop, drawing a foul and making 1-of-2 attempts at the line; however, Anon Beard grabbed the rebound and immediately made a layup to put Arkansas on top 56-55 with 10 seconds left to play. Florida freshman point guard Chris Chiozza was unable to make a driving layup on the other end, but junior guard Michael Frazier II grabbed his rebound and immediately got fouled, hitting a pair of free throws with 1.9 seconds remaining to put UF ahead for good. Sophomore PG Kasey Hill then stole the inbounds pass, clinching the victory (see the game-ending play at the bottom of this post).
“I felt like in the game there were a couple moments where we were teetering a little bit, and this game, I really felt like they battled as hard as they could,” head coach Billy Donovan said. Michael Frazier, when he has not made shots, has allowed that to consume him. It’s been two games now where he [has stepped up defensively despite not shooting well]. … That’s been this team’s struggle is that competitive fight. It’s a balance between them being worried about performance and them being worried about competing. When you’re competing, you’re never worried about your performance. … Today, I thought we competed better.”
Significant stretches: Florida and Arkansas fought tooth-and-nail through the first 13-plus minutes of the second half until the Gators began to pull away, using a 7-1 run capped by a three from Finney-Smith to take a game-high nine-point lead at 53-44 with over six minutes left to play. The Hogs, however, were quick to answer with a 7-0 run to cut their deficit to two on the back of Bobby Portis, who scored 10-straight points for the visitors.
Prominent player: Frazier made the two important free throws late but was otherwise relatively ineffective as a scorer, going 2-for-9 from the field and 0-for-5 from deep with six points, though he did pick up two steals. It was Finney-Smith who shined and led UF in both scoring and rebounding with 16 points (6-of-13 shooting) and nine boards. “He did a lot of really good things today. … Great drives to the basket, he finished strong,” Donovan said. “He really did a nice job tonight. I thought he had an all-around very good game. I thought he played pretty well on both ends of the floor. I thought he competed hard and certainly he carried a lot of the load today.”
First half focus: Florida took its first lead at 18-17 and another at 20-19 but saw Arkansas muscle its way to a 27-21 advantage with three minutes remaining. The Gators had missed eight-straight shots over a 4:39 stretch but suddenly stepped on the glass, exploding on a half-ending 8-0 run that gave them a 29-27 lead at the break. The Razorbacks went scoreless for the final three minutes of the half as the hosts posted eight points in the final 1:28.
Perfect play: Coming out of a television timeout, Arkansas put Florida in the full-court press, but the Gators broke it rather easily with a fastbreak that ended in this thunderous dunk by redshirt junior forward Alex Murphy, his only basket of the game.
Standout stats: Despite missing three-straight important free throws in the game’s final minutes, Florida went 13-of-17 from the charity stripe in the second half. The Gators, however, also came near their recent turnover average with 14 giveaways on Saturday that led to an astounding 24 points for the Razorbacks.
“We didn’t play well. Just calling it like it is, we didn’t play well,” Donovan said. “I thought we really competed in the game, but we missed layups, we missed free throws, we missed open three-point shots. We had a 5-on-0 break that we threw the ball out of bounds on. Maybe the better word is, we didn’t play very ‘clean.'”
What it means: Florida earned its biggest victory of the season against a surging Arkansas team that is also one of the highest-rated in terms of RPI. The consecutive hard-fought victories by UF should also give it some confidence as it heads into a very difficult part of its schedule
Next up: There is no rest ahead for the weary Gators, which will pick up again after a short break and hit the road as Vanderbilt will host Florida on Tuesday at 9 p.m.
Everything else: Redshirt senior center Jon Horford had his best game in orange and blue, finishing 3-for-3 from the field and 2-for-2 from the line with eight points and seven boards … Florida only committed two fouls in the first half … Murphy and redshirt senior F Jacob Kurtz started the second half with Frazier and redshirt junior G Eli Carter (2-for-12) taking a seat on the bench … Finney-Smith committed three turnovers on Saturday, giving him 14 in his last four games, but did not commit a miscue in the second half … Hill struggled with his shot (1-for-7) and hit just half of his free throw but grabbed eight boards and registered two assists and two steals to just one turnover … the Gators trailed most of the first half but still led for 20:34 of the game … Florida only shot 34.6 percent overall (18-of-52) and 18.2 percent from beyond the arc (4-of-22) … the Gators did, however, have 11 assists on 18 made baskets … after making a three in 41-straight contests, Frazier has not drained a shot from long range in back-to-back games