Truth be told, I’m kind of tired of writing these recaps in the same vein every time: Florida played well in some areas, did not do so well in other categories, but we’ll see how it goes next week. That’s getting to be repetitive, so I’m going to take a different approach today.
I’m not going to baby my way around this: Florida played some stretches of this game really, really badly. In fact, it’s not completely unfair to say that Florida was downright horrible today. I think that might be a bit of an overreaction, but I wouldn’t defend the Gators from any criticisms less harsh than that.
You know what though? Florida won the game, 68-61, marking their 16th win in the last 17 games against Auburn, and their 27th win in the last 34 games. You know what else? I’m pretty damn proud of them. Seriously, I am. A road win in the SEC is a big win. Don’t believe me? Ask Texas A&M, Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama how their road trips went today. A&M was previously unbeaten in the SEC, but stumbled on the road against a pesky Mississippi State team. Only Ole Miss won on the road- the other four visiting teams in action today were defeated. That’s what separates Florida from the rest of the SEC- the ability to win on the road.
Of course Florida did some things that made me really worried; when do they not? They never play perfect basketball, the way the national championship teams of 06-07 did. The Gators committed 14 turnovers, and Florida’s best outside weapon, Michael Frazier, was held without a single point. Think about that for a second, that’s really frightening. I’m sure it can be excused as a bad game if Frazier comes back and burns the Crimson Tide for 20+ next Thursday in Tuscaloosa, but still, it does not leave Gator fans with a very good image of the usually dead-eye sophomore from Tampa.
But scared as I am by those things, I’m still going to wake up tomorrow as a fan of a 15-2 team, and a team that’s in first place in the SEC. With the Aggies’ defeat at the hands of the Starkville version of the Bulldogs, Florida now sits alone atop the SEC standings, as A&M was the last undefeated team in conference play.
This was one of those games that followed the typical pattern of most Florida games this year. I figured somebody would have to be all over the court making plays for the first 90% of the game, the other team would make a late run to get the crowd back into it, and then somebody else would stand up late and carry the Gators to victory. Wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly how this game played out.
Casey Prather dominated the majority of this game, with the following stat line: 21 points (game high) and 6 rebounds (tied with Patric Young, Will Yeguette and Allen Payne of Auburn for the game high). But this was only enough to hold off the Tigers for so long. This game eventually came down to the last five minutes, the way most great college basketball games do, and by that time, Florida clung to a 60-54 lead, and Prather was finished with his heroics because Auburn coach Tony Barbee would switch his defense into a nasty 2-3 zone that effectively swallowed him up the rest of the game.
With 4:45 to go, KT Harrel (a major pain for Florida to deal with all night) got the crowd rocking with a huge three to slice the lead in half. Kasey Hill then got fouled, and thanks to several silly Auburn fouls earlier in the half, Florida was in the double bonus. Hill took full advantage, hitting two free throws to increase Florida’s lead to 62-57. But then Chris Denson- another thorn in Florida’s side- responded with a layup to bring Auburn back within three. After about a minute of cooperative sluggishness by both teams, Tahj Shamsid-Deen’s bucket brought Auburn to within one.
That’s when Scottie Wilbekin- responsible for most of Florida’s sloppiness in the preceding minute- took over.
First, Wilbekin drove the lane after draining the entire shot clock and lofted up a floater that went down to put Florida back up by three, 64-61. (Had he missed, Auburn would have had the ball with a chance to win the game.) After Auburn failed to score, they fouled Wilbekin with :46 to go. Though he couldn’t make two, he did one, which put Florida up by two possessions. Harrel then drove the lane but missed the layup, and Wilbekin made another free throw that, with :18 to go, put Florida up 66-61, and essentially put the game out of reach. Kasey Hill then made two more free throws to clinch it.
Not many times will Florida’s opponents are going to hit their first six three-pointers, or even shoot above 50% from three. Not many times will arguably Florida’s best player, Michael Frazier, go without a single point. Not many times will the Gators turn it over 14 times. Tonight, all three of those things happened, and there was still another factor that worked against Florida big time.
There was one piece of truly horrible officiating, if not downright Auburn fandom (kidding… but only kind of, it was that bad) by the refs. The officials granted Auburn an additional six seconds in the final minute to give them a (slightly) better chance of playing catch-up. Of course, every ref screws up, and that Auburn fandom line was about 90% in jest, but it was a really bad move by the refs that could have screwed Florida, but just like every big shot Auburn hit, Florida simply took it in stride, and dealt with it, and now the Gators have a W in tomorrow’s newspapers, even though the second half spanned 20:06 instead of the usual 20:00. Florida could have chosen to whine about it and let it interrupt their focus, but instead, they dealt with it, and they won the game.
Bottom line: Auburn played very well. Florida played very badly. Florida won on Auburn’s home court despite those coinciding facts. That’s a good thing to have in your back pocket as a team, a really good thing, even though Auburn, a team that’s barely above .500, is not one of those opponents Florida’s going to list on their resume come March. So despite how bad Florida played, and despite Auburn now sitting at 8-7 0-4 in the SEC, don’t let anybody tell you different: this is a big win.