No. 2 Florida Gators basketball (24-2, 13-0 SEC) squeaked by the Auburn Tigers (12-12, 4-9 SEC) on Wednesday night at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL, staving off an upset big and coming away with a 71-66 victory that kept a number of major streaks alive. Following the close win, head coach Billy Donovan met with the media to discuss the win.
HISTORY, STATS AND STREAKS
» Florida is now 20-4 against Auburn under Donovan. UF has won seven-straight, 17 of the last 18 in the series and nine in a row at home. The Gators and Tigers squared off in a home-and-home series for the first time since 1991.
» UF matched a program-best by opening the season 24-2, a record it only previously achieved at the start of the 2006-07 season. Florida has also set a school-record by starting 13-0 in league play.
» The Gators are in the midst of the longest winning streak in program history. UF won its 18th-straight game on Wednesday and has been victorious in 23 of the last 24 contests.
» Florida has won 30 consecutive home games as well as 15-in-a-row against SEC opponents in the O’Dome, both school records.
» The Gators are 76-9 since the beginning of the 2011-12 season when holding an opponent under 71 points in a game.
» Florida is 11-2 this season in single-digit decisions after going 0-6 in such contests during the 2012-13 campaign. UF is also 1-0 in overtime games.
» Florida overcame its largest halftime deficit of the season (eight points), outscoring its visitors 41-28 in the second half to pull off a five-point victory.
» Senior center Patric Young hit 7-of-9 free throws and is now shooting 71.4 percent from the line over his last six games. He made 54.1 percent of his free throws through the first 20 games.
» The Gators got to the charity stripe for 10 shots in the final 3:09, converting eight of those attempts. UF finished 23-for-28 (.821) for the game.
» Young and senior forward Casey Prather combined hit 11-of-15 field goals (.733) in the contest, while the other six Florida players that attempted shots made just 9-of-35 attempts (.257).
» There were six ties and nine lead changes in the game.
» The Gators clinched a top-two seed and subsequently guaranteed themselves a bye in the 2014 SEC Tournament.
“I thought Auburn outplayed us. Saying it like it is. We did not do a very good job defensively. … You’re not always great defensively. Give Auburn credit because they really shot the ball very well. … Coming into the half, we were not there like I thought we needed to be. All the things that you can imagine coming out of last week I hit these guys with in terms of being able to prepare, start over the process of going into the next game. I felt like this game was going to be a battle. … We got motivated because the game was in great doubt and jeopardy there but we didn’t have a great motivation and passion there while the game was going on.
“We’ve got to find a way to learn from this in some way. Again, I’m very happy we won. I thought our guys showed some great resiliency. I thought they battled; they fought and made some plays down the stretch. But I think anybody that was watching that game would clearly say from start-to-finish, for the most part maybe outside the last 3-4 minutes, that they probably outplayed us.”
After the game, Donovan announced that sophomore guard Michael Frazier II (who injured his left hand early in the second half but returned) would be fine, and Prather was still dealing with some ankle and knee issues but nevertheless played the entire game. However, the team health updates were not all positive.
On freshman point guard Kasey Hill, who was expected to miss Wednesday’s game with a groin injury and ultimately did not play, Donovan could not provide a positive note. “Hill is not progressing as fast as we thought he would. Right now I’d say it’s probably doubtful for the game on Saturday,” he said. “We’ll probably find out a little more [Thursday]. [The groin is] not pulled, it’s a strain, the trainer was hoping he’d be able to start practice here [Thursday], but he’s not going to be able to do that. It’s not going as fast or as quickly as we hoped it would have.”
Donovan also noted that Young was not originally expected to play on Wednesday, which is particularly newsworthy because that had not been a topic of discussion during the coach’s weekly Monday press conference.
“He didn’t warm up, and he told me before the game that he could play. His knees are ailing,” Donovan explained. “I thought he was phenomenal in the second half. He played great. Where he’ll be at [Thursday] we’ll probably have a better idea, but him playing or how much we could play him [Wednesday] was in doubt.”
Three of those injured players came up big for the Gators with Frazier hitting a late three-pointer that got Florida back in the game, Prather finishing an efficient 6-for-8 with 16 points and nine rebounds, and Young chipping in 17 second-half points on 5-of-7 shooting while grabbing three boards and hitting seven of his nine free throw attempts.
“IT’S VERY, VERY FRAGILE”
Donovan has often spoke about winning streaks and team-wide mentalities in college basketball being extremely delicate – where a single mental lapse, negative thought, lack of focus or injury can really disrupt a team’s success – and he mentioned that once again on Wednesday night when explaining that Florida got away with a lackluster performance instead of making it their mission not to let complacency set in.
“Hopefully these guys can learn coming out of a game like this just how fragile all this stuff is. It’s very, very fragile,” he said. “That’s the one thing that I’ve always said about competition that I love. It doesn’t make a difference what’s happened in the past; all that matters is what happens in between the lines.”
The Gators’ free throw shooting, for example, has been phenomenal over the last three games with the team hitting 62-of-78 attempts from the charity stripe (.795), a mark that is more than 13 percent better than over the previous 22 games (.659).
Florida also has to deal with being ranked No. 2, which means it will get maximum effort from its opponent every single night and will need to find a way to match that intensity.
“Being undefeated in the league, [high] ranking, all that stuff, no question you’re going to get everybody’s best shot. But I like to look at it the other way. Are we going to give our best shot? That’s all well and good and we can know that, but are we going to give our best shot?” Donovan questioned.
“I didn’t think today we did that, and I think that Auburn had a lot more bounce. They were more lively, they played fearlessly, they attacked, they were aggressive, they were confident. They knew where the ball was going and what they were doing, and they made plays when they needed to make plays.”
He added: “Auburn came in here with great energy and fire. Our guys, like I said, there’s some uncharted territory here where you’ve got to handle some of the stuff that’s been thrown out these guys.”
POST-GAME NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan On Florida’s lackluster three-point defense, which allowed Auburn to hit 10 treys on 19 attempts: “We did a phenomenal job of [guarding Chris] Denson and [KT] Harrell of keeping them out of the lane. The bad part of that was when we did do that and they skipped it and moved it to the next guy, we did not react quick enough to take away threes. … Where they really hurt us was from the three-point line.”
» Donovan On the Gators not playing that well in home games this season: “In my opinion, outside of the Tennessee game, we have not played well at home. I don’t know if it’s a complacency, there’s a relax, we’re at home, everything’s going to be OK. I don’t know; I can’t put my finger on it. … To get to that emotional level every single time is I think what makes teams really, really special. We got to a high enough level to win the game, but we got to play better.”
» Young on Florida’s focus: “I believe this team just wants it. We really, really want it and we hate losing more than anything. Our hate for losing is probably more than our desire to win. When it comes down to these last few situations, we’ve just fought and got it done.”
@ONLYGATORS TWEET OF THE GAME
Patric Young just flew in from Orlando with a layup-saving block. Holy cow. He's tired. #Gators
— OnlyGators.com (@onlygators) February 20, 2014