It was a good win for the Gators yesterday, beating the Kentucky Wildcats 85-72 with a performance that looked a little more like the team we have come to know this season. It was the Gators' sixth straight win over the 'Cats, a feat that has never been done by an SEC program, and may be a win that propels Florida to another solid postseason run.
But seriously, who didn't see this one coming? Senior Day combined with a hostile home environment, with a team trying to get back on track against one of their biggest basketball rivals will usually equal a pretty good outcome. It would have been quite the surprise if the Gators would have come out flat and lacking focus -- despite what the past four games have indicated.
The various problems that Florida has had over the recent skid has been well documented. There were questions being asked about this group, wondering whether or not they were fatigued, wondering if they weren't focused or simply wondering if this team had been figured out by the opposition.
Individual struggles were discussed at large. What is wrong with Joakim Noah? Taurean Green?
Yesterday's performance more than likely quieted most of the talk, as the Gators put together a fine display of shooting, defense (in the second 20 minutes, at least) and fairly unselfish basketball throughout.
The Gators, whose strength early in the season was lights out shooting -- they were averaging 54% prior to the recent slide -- shot an amazing 64% against the Wildcats, including close to 70% in the second half. The hot shooting could be attributed partly to a poor Kentucky defensive effort that gave UF several open shots, especially in the paint where the Gators scored 44 points in the game.
As for the struggling players as of late?
The Gators had five players in double figures on the day. Joakim Noah and Taurean Green, who have been criticized the most as of late, both added 17 points. Al Horford scored 14, Lee Humphrey had 11 and Walter Hodge scored 15 coming off the bench (which was a result of 5-5 shooting from the field).
The Gators looked dominant on the glass yesterday as well, something that has been a strenght of theirs all season. Noah and Horford both grabbed 10, including eight offensive, as the Gators outrebounded Kentucky 35-23. The inside presence of Kentucky was just not as energetic and aggressive yesterday, and it showed in these numbers.
And on defense, an area that looked awful during the losses to Tennessee, LSU and Vanderbilt, the Gators used an intense effort early in the second half to hold Kentucky to just one basket through the first six and a half minutes. This was the time in which the Gators pulled away, and it was a flashback to earlier games this season when the team found ways to hold the opposition down for long stretches.
While we saw a renewed ability to shoot, rebound and play defense yesterday, the Gators still are feeling the effects of the turnover bug which has been hounding them over the final stretch of the season. Kentucky forced 18 turnovers by the Gators yesterday, a number that could easily cost you games. And the Wildcats did a pretty good job of turning those mistakes into points, scoring 25 points off of turnovers in the game.
One of the differences of this game was the ability of the Gators to draw fouls on the Wildcats -- something that seems to happen when you're aggressive -- and make a good majority of their free throws. I do believe that the margin of difference in fouls yesterday (Kentucky had 19; Florida had 15) was do to a combination of an up-tempo performance by the Gators and the refs trying to make that big call in the heat of the moment. This, unfortunately, makes way for some calls going the home team's way. I will admit, we may have seen some of that yesterday.
The foul differential didn't matter too much, though. The Gators made their shots and did what they needed to do inside, while the Wildcats looked a little slow on the defensive side and couldn't find a way to put together a consistent effort over the two halves.
This was a big win, and I hope that the little funk is over for these guys. They used a regular season win over Kentucky to springboard them to an SEC tournament and NCAA tournament win last season; Let's hope the result is the same this time around.