Let me start off this update by promising that the below smidgen of text recapping today's victory over the Purdue Boilermakers will not once include the statement "found a way to win." There will be no variation on this, such as "they did what they had to do to win," or any variation upon the theme of finding a way to grab a second-round NCAA tournament victory.
Now, I realize this goes against a founding principle of being a modern-day Florida basketball team, as our 1994 Final-Four squad is labeled as the "Find a Way" Gators basketball team. No offense to Dan Cross and Dmitri Hill, but hey, NCAA hoops cliches are so mid-90s.
"Welcome to the Big Ten. We play defense."
I've read or heard several bastard-offsprings of this statement over the last couple of days heading into the Gators match up with the Purdue Boilermakers today in the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament.*
Anyways, the Purdue Boilermakers did show us statistically that they did in fact play great defense throughout the season, coming into today with the fifteenth most efficient defense according to Ken Pomeroy's site. Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois and Wisconsin -- other Big Ten teams that made the NCAA tournament -- pride themselves on defense and attribute that to why they have made it as far as they have (did).
Of course we would like to laugh at that. I mean, that's not exciting. It wasn't exciting watching Wisconsin not top 50 points in two matchups against the Buckeyes this season. We didn't take it seriously, at all, and then Purdue came along today and knocked some sense into us.
That physical play, combined with a slow-paced, clock-controlling kind of game did not help Florida's cause in the first half of today's contest; They shot a measly 36.4% in the opening frame, including only going 2-10 from three-point range during that time. The poor performance gave the Gators only 29 points going into halftime. Luckily for them, the Boilermakers offense could only put up 31.
Essentially we saw the mirror opposite of what Jackson State's first half strategy threw at this team. The Tigers tried to up the tempo to a break-neck pace, force turnovers and create bad Florida shots to stay in the game. Purdue simply slowed the game down (though not too unreasonably slow; the pace was 64), attempted to outphysical the Gators and keep them off-balanced on the offensive side.
And just like Friday night, it would take a better effort out of Florida if they wanted to take this game -- something that was not going to come easy against a very-focused, very good Purdue team. Basically we needed to see better shooting, a better post-presence and a more balanced attack on the offensive end. The Gators would need to do what was nee...find a w...they would need to score more points than the Boilermakers to win this game.
Really, they would need to match Purdue's game if they wanted a chance, and that would take getting ball inside, getting to the foul line and playing lockdown defense. They did all of these things; Al Horford scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half, the Gators went 16-19 from the free throw line during that period, and on the other end they forced seven Purdue turnovers and blocked three big shots.
The team took what their opposition was doing and matched it, and on that note bested it; Something that we as fans should be very proud of. This was what they nee..Today the Gators showed us just another way they could win a basketball game.
Last season's tournament saw the Gators match up in a slugfest versus a very physical, slow-tempoed Georgetown squad -- in what ended up a 57-53 victory for the Orange and Blue. Could today's affair end up being this season's version of that game, at least a little bit?
If they do run into another one of these types of physical games, at least we know that they can find a wa...match up in various ways and win with the weapons they have.
On to the Sweet Sixteen. Butler now stands in the way. Now let's see what their strategy is to beat this team. Will they speed it up and try to outshoot the Gators? Or will they try to knock our big-men off their game with a physical bout? Butler holds opponents to very low scoring averages, so perhaps we're in for another defensive struggle.
Let's stay alive Gators. Keep us thinking repeat. NCAA Tournament winning streaks sure are fun.
* In a way this assertation made me giggle, because I distinctly remember Florida putting up 86 points on the conference champions of the Big Ten.