I can't remember having more fun at a Gators game in the last two years than I did tonight at Florida's 78-72 overtime win over Arizona. I haven't been to a lot of the fun football games in that stretch — Kentucky in 2010, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Furman this year — or gone to a lot of non-football, non-men's basketball games, but I went to almost all of the home basketball games last year and went to the awesome "second round" win over UC Santa in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Nothing compared to this game, a stirring, defense-fueled comeback with all-time performances from Patric Young and Will Yeguete. Tonight was the sort of night that makes it easy to chant "It's great! To be! A Florida Gator!" and believe every syllable.
During that late comeback, in which Florida defenders played "like madmen," as one scribe pointed out on Twitter, I realized that I would be fine even if the Gators didn't come all the way back, because they had woken up and decided to force Arizona to take a victory if the Wildcats were going to get one. And then the Gators decided to take the game for their own. That sort of win is the best sort of win.
Below the jump, a more traditional recap from FColosi, who is joining the Alligator Army team to do some recap-writing for us.
Coming into this game there were more than a few questions surrounding the Gators. Would Erik Murphy return to form? Could they limit the turnovers against another team expected to make March Madness? Would the Gators establish some offense down low? How would Arizona's Nick Johnson do filling in for the suspended Josiah Turner?
To open the game, the Gators were able to take advantage of some sloppy play from the Wildcats, and snared offensive rebounds to build a lead that would max out at seven points in the half. It seemed that an emphasis was placed on the inside game with Young doing the dirty work with 14 points in the first half.
Yet as the half wore on, poor guard play from Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, and Bradley Beal (held to three collective points) and a few key turnovers, including one at the buzzer, led to the Wildcats gaining a one-point advantage on the Gators. Going into the half one of the biggest issues for the Gators to correct was the free throw shooting, more woeful than ever: 1-8 in the first half when the other team grants the Gators the bonus for 10 minutes is not how basketball games are won.
Walker worked to rectify the guard play woes, hitting a three to open the second half, but little else out of the guards seemed effective, as shot after shot was turned away by an unforgiving rim. Every run the Gators could put together was answered well by Arizona. For the Gators, if the ball could not get to Young, the possession was going to end in a terrible shot, a turnover, or a giveaway.
With seven minutes left in regulation, things changed. The Gators used a strong run of key defense and clutch shooting to turn a seven-point gap to a one-point lead with two minutes to go. Walker was sent to the line with 8 seconds left and a one point lead to build on.
Miraculously, and to the delight of the O'Dome crowd, he hit both, giving Arizona one last chance to hit a three-point shot. Unfortunately for Gator fans in attendance, a questionable shooting foul on Solomon Hill by Casey Prather led to three shots, and in keeping with the Gators' luck, he hit all three, sending the game to overtime.
In overtime, the Gators were able to limit turnovers and hit some free throws as fouls knocked a couple Wildcats out of the game. Walker sank five of six free throws, Boynton hit two of four, and Yeguete had a big steal to help seal the victory.
For large portions of the game, the Gators seemed lost on defense, either unable or unwilling to stick to their defensive assignments. Add to that a horrific night of shooting from beyond the arc and the line, and this game had all the makings of a trap.
Yet when the game came to the final minutes the Gators pulled their best Tebow impression and were able hit the shots that were there, play solid defense, and come out on top. Young put forth a Herculean effort with a career-high 25 points and 10 rebounds, Walker made up for a terrible first half by finishing with 14 points, Mike Rosario managed 10 points off the bench to lead the extras, and Murphy hit a three, much to the crowd's delight, in his comeback game.
- Murphy played sparingly, and looked all right moving up and down the court, I'm sure Donovan didn't want to push it too much in his first game back.
- Rosario once again disappeared in the second half. I'm not sure if he was benched or just never got back in the game.
- Patric Young beast mode: activated. Young was able to set a career-high in points, had nice dish from double teams that led to Yeguete dunks, and generally really showed maturity and vision.
- Yeguete really showed something tonight and deserves his minutes.
- Cold shooting from the outside.
- Poorly-timed turnovers and sloppy possessions.
- Once again, the charity stripe looked to the Gators like the Internet does to WWII vets: a scary and foreboding place. Arizona put the Gators to the line often, and offered Florida many chance to put up free points, but the Gators just could not do anything with the chances.