No. 8/10 Florida Gators basketball (1-0) struggled in both halves but completed complete a 77-69 season-opening victory over the North Florida Ospreys (0-1) at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL, on Friday afternoon.
Head coach Billy Donovan was highly critical of his team’s performance and discussed his concerns at length following the game.
“My concern right now is on the defensive end of the floor. That’s really a major concern I have right now,” he said. “No disrespect to North Florida. … We’re going to play against higher level people come Tuesday. We got a long, long, long way to go – long way to go – because what’s going on now, it’s not sinking in to these guys. It’s not.”
Senior forward Casey Prather played his best game in a Florida uniform on Friday, doubling his career-high with 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting. His previous career-high of 14 points came against Virginia in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Prather attacked the hoop, made a couple mid-range buckets and even hit his first five foul shots, scoring 17 points in the first half alone. He finished 8-of-11 from the charity stripe, also picking up eight rebounds and filling out his stat line with three blocks (also a career-high), an assist and a steal.
He did have a bad sequence late in the second half, however, and finished with three turnovers. After grabbing a defensive rebound, Prather coughed the ball up with an errant pass. He blocked the ensuing shot but fouled UNF’s best three-point shooter, Beau Beech, on a made trey (it resulted in a four-point play that cut UF’s lead to 12). Back on the other end, he missed consecutive layups and got blocked on the second try.
Displaying a solid command of the offense – albeit with a few understandable mistakes – freshman point guard Kasey Hill looked every bit the floor general for the Gators. He only finished with four dimes on the afternoon, but Hill was great in transition, ran Florida’s up-tempo offense with ease and was dynamic taking the ball to the hoop.
A spin move at the top of the key with 8:25 left in the game resulted in a lay-in for Hill and was just two of his 15 points, which was good enough for third-most on the Gators. Hill went 5-for-9 from the floor and 5-for-6 from the free throw line, making three of four gimmies in the final 27 seconds of the game.
Nevertheless, Donovan was not completely satisfied with what he saw.
“Kasey obviously offensively played very, very well,” he said. “I was disappointed in him today, and I told him that on the bench. The reason I was disappointed in him today is because he’s a great kid, he’s an unbelievable kid to coach. He has got a sponge in terms of trying to learn. But the one thing, if there’s one thing that really stood out that got under my skin by our team and by him, was this look of – I don’t know if the right word is ‘entitlement,’ I don’t know if the right word is ‘everything’s supposed to go my way and when it doesn’t I get deflated’ – our resiliency, our fight, our grit [disappeared].
“I say North Florida had a lot of grit tonight. … We did not even show remotely close to the grit that North Florida showed. So maybe our guys can learn something from them.”
CHARITY STRIPE, INDEED
Florida started Friday’s game by making 17 consecutive free throws and tying the program’s second-longest streak of made free throws without a miss (Jan. 5, 1997 vs. South Carolina). The Gators finished the contest 27-of-32 from the stripe with every player who went to the line shooting 66 percent or better.
UF’s three worst free throw shooters during the 2012-13 season – Prather, senior center Patric Young and senior F Will Yeguete – combined to go 12-for-16 (75 percent) from the charity stripe. All three also shot well in the exhibition game.
NOT BILLY BALL
The three-point arc was an area of concern for Florida on both ends of the court.
Defensively, the Gators displayed the poor three-point defense that concerned Donovan during fall practice. The Ospreys missed their first nine treys but made nine of their last 15 attempts, many of which came at the end of each half.
With Florida leading by 18 points with 6:02 remaining in the first half, North Florida concluded the first 30 minutes on a 16-4 run by hitting four triples and scoring 11-straight points. UF led UNF by just six at the end of the half.
“I thought the first 15 minutes was pretty good. … We got kind of a make-shift lineup out there. Some of our younger guys don’t understand how quickly momentum can change,” Donovan explained. “The basketball IQ of anticipating and reading and where’s the shooter at and what do I need to do – sometimes we’re just totally lost. … I thought our younger guys played pretty hard but there’s just times they put our team in very difficult situations. And I thought, in both halves, that happened for us.
The Ospreys hit a three at the start of the second half to cut their deficit down to three, but the Gators later rebounded with a 19-5 scoring stretch including an 8-0 run that featured their only two treys of the game – consecutive makes from junior guard Eli Carter and sophomore G Michael Frazier II.
Florida, however, allowed North Florida right back in the game on a 10-2 run that ended with less than four minutes to play. UNF hit three consecutive triples (one resulted in a four-point play) as part of the stretch that cut UF’s advantage from 18 down to eight.
“The second half I thought we got out-worked, out-hustled. I thought they beat us to loose basketballs. … We could not come up with a rebound. I think there was a point in time in the second half they had the ball six times on their run and they scored six-straight times. Stuff like that never happened last year to us,” Donovan continued.
“We are light-years away from even being a remotely good defensive team right now, light-years away from even being a ranked team.”
The Gators held on for the victory, but the 21-point differential from beyond the arc is a major concern for a team that will only be facing tougher competition from here on out.
Additionally, Florida was 0-for-6 from downtown in the first half, but its second-half makes advanced UF’s streak to 726 consecutive contests with a three (dating back to 1992).
After the game, Donovan announced that the three players suspended for Friday’s contest – senior PG Scottie Wilbekin, redshirt sophomore F Dorian Finney-Smith and redshirt junior C Damontre Harris – will also miss next Tuesday’s game on the road against No. 20 Wisconsin. “Those three guys will not play against Wisconsin,” he said.
POST-GAME NOTES AND QUOTES
» Florida improved to 4-0 all-time against North Florida.
» The Gators are 18-0 under Donovan in season openers and have won 23-straight dating back to 1991.
» UF has won 16-straight games in the O’Dome dating back to March 10, 2012. The Gators went undefeated at home (15-0) during the 2012-13 season.
» Donovan (416) is now just 32 wins behind Dale Brown (448) for second-most in SEC history. He is currently the longest-tenured head coach in the league.
» UNF outrebounded UF 37-35.
» The Gators committed 13 turnovers while registering just 11 assists.
» Florida’s eight-point margin of victory was the lowest in a season-opening game since UF took down Temple 72-64 at the start of the 2001-02 campaign.
» Dealing with mononucleosis and only seeing limited time on the court, Frazier came off the bench to score a career-high 19 points and match a career-best with a team-high nine rebounds.
» Carter played his first game with Florida but made just 1-of-6 shots for three points with two rebounds and an assist.
» Hill became the first Gators freshman to start at point guard since Nick Calathes and Jai Lucas in 2007.
» Young finished with just two points, two rebounds and two blocks in 20 minutes. He was 0-for-2 from the field and barely impacted the game.
» Yeguete (knee) did not register a field goal either but definitely made his presence felt with five boards, three dimes and a game-high four steals.
» Donovan on Young’s lackluster performance: “The expectations that I have is for Patric Young to grab more than one rebound or two rebounds, for Will Yeguete to be able to [as well] – and he did a better job in the second half. But we should not get outrebounded. I know we were undersized a little bit at times. I guess my expectation is more based on what does our team look like, what are they capable of, and are they playing at the level you would expect them to. I thought there was times tonight that … we had guys not playing up to their standards.”
» Donovan on Florida’s overall lack of basketball intelligence: “I always wondered, when I was coaching [Joakim] Noah, [Al] Horford and those guys and won two national championships, the guys that were in your program [on the bench], what were you watching? You see a guy like Kenny Boynton, you see a guy like Erik Murphy and you see a Mike Rosario. Yes, they scored a lot of points, they were good three-point shooters, Murph is in the NBA, Boynton leaves here the second all-time leading scorer, Rosario 1,700 points. But their basketball IQ and understanding of where to be, when to be, what’s going on, how to rotate, it was just at a totally different level to what we’re dealing with. That’s the frustrating part to me. I can’t seem to get through to some of these guys. When you get a situation where you give up 13 three-point shots, now nine three-point shots, it’s a constant theme. It was not an aberration. … It’s every day. Every day. We maybe got to do some different drills or something but we’re not figuring it out.”