I think maybe Tennessee read my five points from the Missouri game on how to keep it interesting against Florida, because even though the Gators won, 56-49, it was downright ugly. Here are five takeaways heading into the tournament finale against Kentucky.
Defense does it again…
14 points. That’s all Tennessee was allowed to score in the second half against Florida’s relentless defense. The Vols went 5-for-20 in the second half with a whopping 11 turnovers. They also went home with the blues. Florida had 20 rebounds, and scored 18 of its 56 points off Volunteer turnovers. This marks the seventh consecutive game that the Gators have scored 15 or more points off opponent turnovers.
… and the offense falls asleep at the wheel
The Gators shot almost 48% from the field, yet the scoreboard showed the fewest points all season. Does that make any sense? Combine a season-low four offensive rebounds, an abysmal 10-for-17 from the free-throw line and 13 turnovers, and there’s your answer. If Florida wants an SEC Tournament title (not to mention an NCAA championship), it must improve the free throw shooting.
The referees whistled more than Otis Redding in “Sittin on the Dock of the Bay.” Florida was called for 18 fouls, slightly more than its 15 per game season average. The Gators must clean up this statistic, because while they hit less than 60% of their free throws, Tennessee was 81% from the charity stripe. Florida can not give points away when unable to match on its end. Against Kentucky, the Gators must ensure that they are only playing the Wildcats, not battling the zebras on the floor as well.
Painting an orange and blue Picasso
Something that struck me (six rows up from the court today) was the lack of paint presence by the Gators. Patric Young had multiple looks and didn’t take them; Casey Prather had three air-ball jumpers; and Kasey Hill was the only Florida bench player to record a point all day. Yes, the Gators can be hot from behind the arc, but they need to start challenging for points in the paint.
I understand the need for confusing the opponent on offensive screens, but this will be the third matchup against Kentucky, and second in a week’s time. The Gators can’t take a chance running the same thing that worked twice – because the third time might not be a charm. Florida’s motto for the tournament finale should be, “Vary the offensive sets, and you will cut down the nets.”
Home sweet Dome(?)
Anyone that has ever been to the SEC Tournament knows that one ticket will get you into all the games played during a session. So, naturally, after the Gators (finally) vanquished the Volunteers, I decided to stay with my friend Clarissa for the Kentucky-Georgia game. To describe the roar cascading through the Georgia Dome when Kentucky took the court as deafening would not do the sound justice. I’ve always heard how loyal and dedicated Kentucky fans are to their team, but I was startled at the truth of that. Kentucky fans made up at least 80% of the crowd. The Gator Nation may be everywhere, but the Big Blue Nation is doubly everywhere. On Sunday, Florida must treat the championship game as a true road contest, because the Georgia Dome is going to sound like Rupp Arena.