Florida served notice that it could be a Final Four team with a dominant win over Wisconsin on Wednesday. But this was just one game.
Florida sizzled from the field in the first half of its 74-56 romp over Wisconsin in the O'Connell Center on Wednesday night, and tightened the screws on defense in the second half. But we'll remember this night as the one on which Erik Murphy, fighting a cold, turned in one of the greatest performances in Gators history.
Murphy bolted from the gate, scoring 16 first-half points (13 in a little over the first 11 minutes) en route to a 24-point performance that tied his career high, grabbed eight rebounds, and became just the third Florida player ever to make every shot from the field with more than eight attempts, joining David Lee and Joakim Noah in that tiny fraternity by going 10-for-10 on the night. Murphy also added a steal and a block, and didn't even need a lot of the threes we've come to expect him to stroke to get his points, showing off a well-rounded game that extends from under the basket to beyond the line.
CBS Sports' Jeff Goodman was at this game, and has long been a Murphy fan and a Kenny Boynton skeptic; he certainly got a powerful piece of evidence for his position tonight, and material for really trolly tweets, as Murphy played his best game while Boynton finished 3-for-9 from the floor for 10 points and had three assists and three turnovers. But Boynton didn't need to be great for Florida to win this one, not with Mike Rosario playing one of his best games as a Gator, too.
Rosario, who has ample talent and has been molded into more than a scorer by Billy Donovan, had 15 points, four boards, and four assists, and his four turnovers were largely inconsequential, three coming when Florida had a double-digit lead. Rosario is a disciplined defender now, if not a ferocious one, and that alone is a sea change from the indifferent player who was a huge liability for the Gators early last season; the more important thing for him is that he seems to be taking to the starting lineup like a bat to the night, sliding into a spot that has been created by Scottie Wilbekin's suspension and Casey Prather's concussions and making it his own. If Rosario can keep working on keeping turnovers to a minimum, Florida has a potent second perimeter scorer to pair with Boynton or a fantastic instant offense option off the bench in him.
Of course, it's easy to find what looks good on a night when the Gators shoot 75 percent in the first half and 61.9 percent from the game, hold their opponent to 35.6 percent from the field, get 74 points on 42 shots (for my money, the nuttiest stat on night with many), and never trail, and it's easy to ignore some of the things that weren't so great. Will Yeguete's emergence as an offensive threat continues (nine points, eight boards, three offensive rebounds), and his free throw shooting is much improved; we'll remember that, and not that Florida struggled mightily to establish Patric Young, who took five shots, scored eight points, had seven boards, and coughed the ball up five times. We'll note that Murphy and Rosario ruled, or that Michael Frazier (eight points, two threes, and five boards in 19 minutes) was good, and not that Billy Donovan played his five starters for 170 of the 200 minutes available in the game.
We'll also remember that this was a Final Four-caliber performance by a team that seemed to be a class above Wisconsin, at least, and not that the Badgers looked disjointed of their own volition at times, playing just their second game without starting point guard Josh Gasser, out for the year with an ACL injury.
I think this was the best game Florida's going to put together before the SEC schedule, one that the NCAA Tournament selection committee will remember come March and one that Donovan can point to as an example of what happens when his Gators play together and unselfishly. But it's folly to think the shots are always going to fall like they did, or that Murphy will be the second coming of Christian Laettner for a full season.
This was a very good, very impressive win by a team that has many of the factors necessary for greatness in college basketball. With it, Florida improved to 2-0 on the season.