This Gator team just won’t accept “no” for an answer. Faced with a deafening crowd, (split 75/25 in favor of Big Blue Nation), but armed with the steely determination to cut down the nets, Florida led end-to-end in this game. By recording nine steals, 25 defensive rebounds, three crucial blocked shots, and holding the Wildcats to a season-low 35% (18-51) shooting, the Gators made it a season sweep against their hardwood arch rival.
Free throws, FREE throws, F-R-E-E throws
Wow. Just … wow. I just can’t explain to you, dear readers, the collective groan that came over the small sliver of orange-clad Gator fans in the Georgia Dome when any Florida player stepped up to the free throw line. And, on the reverse side, the roar of the boisterous Big Blue Nation when shot after shot bounced off the rim. Here’s a figure: One point. One point is all the Gators won by – but it could’ve been more. After two chances to put the game away, Scottie Wilbekin missed the front end of a one-and-one, and then Dorian Finney-Smith (after a monster rebound) missed his own free throw with 23 seconds remaining. Overall, the Gators went an intolerable 7-for-17 from the free-throw line.
Florida fans can be happy that their team is SEC champion, and they may not hear what I am about to write, but listen up: Gator Nation will be commiserating over an early round exit if the free-throw shooting does not improve. It is the glaring Achilles’ heel of this unit, If they don’t clean it up, you can bet your ass that teams like Kansas, Syracuse, or UCLA will capitalize and send the Gators home to Gainesville wondering “what if.”
Exclamation mark of history
For the first time in school history, Florida went 3-0 against Kentucky in a single season. It’s something only three teams have ever done before – and none since 1979. The Gators also posted the SEC’s first 21-0 record in conference history – something that Coach Billy Donovan said, “…will never be broken.” On top of all that, Florida has now claimed three of the last four regular-season SEC titles.
In addition to the team accolades, the Associated Press placed Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin on the First Team All-SEC squad. Patric Young made the second team. Wilbekin and Donovan earned SEC Player and Coach of the Year honors to round out the awards. This marks the first time since 2001 that the Gators have placed two players on the AP first team, and first time since 2007 they’ve had three players on the first and second teams combined.
To the victor go the spoils
Florida earned the No. 1 overall seed in 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament as a result of its unblemished conference record, and notable out-of-conference wins over Kansas, Florida State, and Memphis. As a cherry on top, the Gators will open tournament play close to home at the Amway Center in Orlando. Fans should be quite friendly to the orange and blue and create a Rowdy Reptile-like environment in the land of Mickey and Minnie. It should be a nice atmosphere for these hard-working players.
Focus on the finish
The Gators had as much as a 16 point lead in the first half against Kentucky. They were up by 10 at halftime, and held a 6 point lead with a little over 6 minutes remaining in the game. Sense a trend here? Albeit, it may be a new (and unwelcome) trend; but a trend nonetheless. All season long, Florida fans have assured themselves that, as my friends never hesitate to remind me, “The Gators are a second half team.” Maybe this game was anomaly. Regardless, the Gators either need to start and finish strongly, or start strong enough and finish strong.
The championship game turned when Kentucky decided to play slow-tempo basketball, forcing Florida to play their game – and it almost worked. The Gators must impose their will and their style of basketball on the opponent in order to advance beyond the Round of 34, Sweet Sixteen, and the Elite Eight. This game was too close for comfort; it’s time to get back to what has worked.
For now though, enjoy the win. YOUR Florida Gators have earned the SEC regular-season and SEC Tournament championships, and are a No. 1 seed. They’re the greatest SEC team to ever play basketball – and the record proves that. Now it’s time to keep on winning – all the way to Jerryworld in Dallas. It’s great to be a Florida Gator.