Florida vs. Auburn score, takeaways: Gators obliterate No. 12 Tigers as Riley Kugel breaks out

By OnlyGators.com Staff
February 10, 2024
Florida vs. Auburn score, takeaways: Gators obliterate No. 12 Tigers as Riley Kugel breaks out

Image Credit: UAA

Clearly using the preceding week off to get right following a tough loss, the Florida Gators exorcised some demons while continuing their domination of the Auburn Tigers in front of a sold out Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The Gators toppled the No. 12 Tigers for a 15th consecutive meeting in Gainesville, Florida, excelling across both halves for a complete 81-65 victory.

Let’s take a look at what went right for Florida on Saturday afternoon.

It was over when … redshirt senior point guard Zyon Pullin drained two free throws to put the Gators ahead 23 points with 3 minutes to play. Though the Tigers answered with a 7-0 run, they never got closer than 16 points — the final margin — over the last 14 minutes of the contest despite UF astoundingly missing 14 straight field goals over the final 9:40 of the game.

Florida jumped ahead 29 points early in the second half off consecutive treys by sophomore guard Riley Kugel, the second a 4-point play. Kugel simply dominated off the bench in the second half with 11 points and one turnover.

First half focus: The Gators opened with a 9-0 lead, despite a couple miscues, and went up by 17 points midway through the period thanks to a 10-0 run capped by a 3-pointer from junior G Walter Clayton Jr. The Tigers did fight back, but UF pushed its advantage to 19 points in final minute, ultimately taking a 16-point lead into the break.

Exceptional efforts: It was a three-man show for Florida with Pullin emerging as the one player Auburn was simply unable to stop. Pullin posted 19 points, six rebounds and three assists, controlling the ball and clock while also playing excellent perimeter defense. Kugel was the leading scorer with 22 points, hitting 3 of 7 attempts from downtown and adding four boards. Clayton was consistent as usual, posting 20 points on 3 of 6 shooting from deep with six rebounds despite being in foul trouble the entire second half. The trio combined to hit 18 of 19 free throws and score 75.3% of the Gators’ points, proving effective even when not originally finding the bottom of the basket.

Not to be overlooked was the defensive presence of sophomore center Micah Handlogten, who amassed four blocks and three steals along with a team-high nine rebounds in 24 minutes.

Odds & ends: Florida improved to 83-91 all-time against Auburn with a 52-29 mark in the O’Dome … included in that home record are 15 straight wins for the Gators over the Tigers in Gainesville dating back to 1996 … Saturday marked Florida head coach Golden’s first win over one of his mentors, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl … the Gators improved to 14-3 this season when leading at halftime, 14-2 when leading with 5 minutes left … Florida is now 14-4 when outrebounding an opponent and 11-2 when outshooting an opponent from 3-point range … redshirt senior forward Tyrese Samuel — usually one of UF’s most impactful players — struggled in all phases Saturday, hitting just 3 of 7 shots and 2 of 6 free throws, only grabbing two boards and committing both three turnovers and four fouls

What it means: The Gators picked up their second Quadrant 1 victory in three straight opportunities, beating a top-15 opponent for the second time in 11 days. Florida is still just 2-7 in Q1 games (14-0 otherwise), which makes those close defeats earlier in the season even more frustrating. If you distill it all down, UF is probably just 2 minutes of total court time away from being a top-15 team. Alas, that is not the case at this juncture.

Most impressive is that the Gators appeared to use their equivalent of a bye week to its fullest, putting together their most complete performance of the season in a key game. Even beyond its ranking, Auburn is no slouch, but Florida dominated from the first basket, never trailing in the game and leading by double figures for the final 32:17.

The Gators kept their turnovers down (7-15 margin) and excelled at the free-throw line in the second half, making 14 of 16 tries. That coupled with the Tigers’ shooting problems — some of which were due to improved perimeter defense by UF — was the recipe for a delicious victory on Saturday afternoon. (Still, those late-game shooting struggles — no baskets over the final quarter of the game?! — must be addressed.)

What’s next? Florida will look to maintain its hot hand despite a quick turnaround as it hosts LSU on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET in a game that will air live nationally on SEC Network. The Bayou Bengals are hovering around .500 this season with the Gators holding a 4-1 advantage in their last five meetings.

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