On the Brink of Perfection, Florida Might be More Than “Good”Posted by Brian Joyce on March 5th, 2014
Brian Joyce filed this report following Tuesday’s Florida vs. South Carolina game from Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina.
Following Florida’s first win this season, Billy Donovan quipped that his team wasn’t very good. “We are light-years away from even being a remotely good defensive team right now, light-years away from even being a ranked team.” Fast forward light years ahead to early March, and Florida is good. Maybe more than good.
RTC was in attendance on press row Tuesday night as the #1 team in the nation visited South Carolina, fresh off a home victory over a storied Kentucky program. But there would be no court rushing in Colonial Life Arena on this night. With the Gamecocks down 39-35 and the crowd sensing the possibility that their team could make a run at a second straight win over a ranked team and its second victory ever over college basketball’s top-ranked team, Florida exercised its dominance with a 15-0 run and a 33-11 surge to end the game. It wasn’t always pretty, but Florida did what it needed to get to 17-0 in conference play. And now the Gators sense the opportunity that lies ahead. Senior center Patric Young kept things in perspective by crediting the coaching staff. “We’ve just been trying to take it one game at a time. We have the opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done before, to go 18-0 in conference play. And just keeping our eyes on the prize, the opportunity to do something great. To be a part of history has motivated us internally. The coaches have pushed us from day one. Laid down the foundation for us to achieve what we are doing today.”
On a night when Florida had a single player turn in one of the best individual performances of the year, with Michael Frazier recording 11 three-pointers (setting records for the most threes in an SEC game and the most in school history) and 37 points on the night, it was clear the Gators aren’t reliant on one player. Sure, Florida wouldn’t have won without Frazier’s dominant offensive performance, but it also needed Casey Prather to attack the rim, Kasey Hill’s timely steals, and Scottie Wilbekin’s pressure defense. Against Kentucky several weeks ago, it was Wilbekin and Prather who went off for 23 and 24 points respectively. Young put up 17 against Auburn. Dorian Finney-Smith stepped up with 19 against Vanderbilt last week, and came off the bench to hit four threes against LSU. On Tuesday night against South Carolina, it was Frazier who came up big. Next week, it may very well be somebody else.
Frazier knew it wasn’t just about him calling the game “a total team effort,” adding that his teammates got him those open looks and found him once he got hot. It certainly took a team defensive effort to hold the Gamecocks to just 0.72 points per possession, and it’s that collective effort from the Gators that has this team one game from SEC perfection. Young reiterated that it’s the shared approach that has Florida looking at the possibility of something special. “We’re all bought into it. We all love each other. We all push each other. We all compete every single day in practice. We do everything it takes to become great. And just the fact that we’re seeing the fruit from that and we have an opportunity to go 18-0 in conference is just a blessing. Hopefully we keep our heads on straight and stay humble and go into the game and get it done.”
South Carolina coach Frank Martin said it best when he stepped up to the podium, took a sip of his diet Dr. Pepper, and said, “credit Florida. They’re good.” Indeed, the Gators are good. And on the brink of an 18-0 conference record, they might just be great.