Ain't it fun? That — Paramore's sugary "Ain't It Fun" — was on the radio on my way to the O'Connell Center today, before an effervescent Florida put LSU through the business and misery in a 79-61 game that was no less than an efficient evisceration.
And it was, today, living in a real world where Florida is the best team playing college basketball. It was so much fun.
Let's take it from the top: Florida gave LSU an 8-0 hole to dig out of over the first four possessions of the game. The Tigers turned it over three times on those four possessions, would turn it over again on their sixth possession, and only finally managed to score on their seventh. Florida answered with a seeing-eye rebound and putback from Casey Prather and matched LSU shot for shot as the Tigers heated up to get to a 13-7 deficit.
It would never get closer than that.
Florida hit two straight threes to race out to a 19-7 edge, then hit three straight threes to make a 21-14 advantage a 30-14 advantage — that's what you get when you don't defend the three-point line, Tigers — before tacking on two more points from Dorian Finney-Smith free throws for a 11-0 run that effectively ended the competitive portion of the game. LSU tried to roar back into the game with eight points over three possessions at the end of the half, but Florida allowed those eight points while scoring nine points on four possessions, and would finish the half up 41-25.
It would only get more fun — and more lopsided — in the second half. Florida burst from the gates on an 11-5 run, and extended its lead to as many as 29 points before LSU reeled in the Gators' reserves in the final minutes.
All the Gators knew from the field on this day was shots falling: They shot 56 percent from the field in the first half, finished at 56 percent for the game despite some wild shots late, and made 13 of 23 three pointers, setting a new season high for both threes and three-point percentage. That couldn't have been what LSU wanted, but it helped Florida immensely; the Tigers made seven of their 21 threes, but, for the second straight Saturday, it was the Gators, not their foe, doing most of their damage from deep.
LSU's ignorance of the importance of defending the arc was Dorian Finney-Smith's new best friend. Doe-Doe tied a season high by making four of those threes on eight attempts, bouncing all the way back and then some from the slump he suffered through in February, and scored 16 points to lead Florida off the bench for the second straight game. Prather and Michael Frazier II each added 14, with Frazier canning four of six threes, and Scottie Wilbekin added 12 points and three threes of his own.
DeVon Walker chipped in two threes off the bench and Patric Young (eight points, six rebounds) and Will Yeguete (four points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal) proved difficult for Johnny O'Bryant and Jordan Mickey to decode underneath, harassing O'Bryant into four turnovers and holding Mickey in single figures before garbage time kicked in.
Even Chris Walker and Kasey Hill got into the act on this day, with Walker looking phenomenal on the boards with six captured caroms in his 14 minutes of action and Hill returning from injury, looking as fleet as ever, and leading Florida with five assists that went along with his two steals and four points in just 21 minutes of action.
Everything about Florida's mentality on this day helped the Gators crush, crush, crush an LSU team that could not meet its intensity, with the only exceptions being Florida's offensive rebounding (just three offensive boards on 25 opportunities) and a lack of foul shots, as another SEC crew with interesting definitions of the rules of basketball only whistled LSU for eight fouls on the day.
It's not as if Florida needed the free points, though: The Gators were as hot on offense as they ever have been this season, dismantled LSU's offense brick by boring brick, and looked every bit the monster that a No. 1 team should four days after struggling at times in Nashville en route to a squeaker of a win over Vanderbilt.
We have to be careful, as fans, not to let a team we're into as much as this one delude us into thinking that everything will go right, and daydreaming of championships. I have to be careful, as an observer, to remember that Florida still has to face the pressure of the NCAA Tournament to get the glories it desperately wants. This is fun for us; as much fun as it may be, this is still work for them.
But this Florida team is extraordinarily good at wanting to win every possession, and breaking down a team by wanting it — the ball, the block, the position on the box-out, the closeout — now, and putting forth the effort to get it, whatever it is. Frazier was wrestling for loose balls up 25 today. Prather roofed a layup in transition, making up for his own terrible turnover. Chris Walker dove to the floor in the game's final two minutes, and played with the desperation and ferocity of his teammates — finally, he is seemingly caught up with his teammates, who have made desperation and ferocity their ethos.
Florida's starting five is a relentless band of failure-forged, heartbreak-steeled players — four seniors and one sophomore who has played plenty over his two years — and it had gotten its greatest laurel yet, the chance to cut down the nets at home as SEC champions after a blowout victory, by the end of today's game. They didn't.
Both Prather and Wilbekin told reporters that Florida didn't want to cut down the nets. Not yet. There is more to do, more to earn.
Prather: "Everybody on the team didn’t feel comfortable cutting (the nets) down right now because we knew we have more of a journey to go."— Cody Jones (@CJonesScout) March 1, 2014
Wilbekin on not cutting nets: "We felt it was given to us when Kentucky lost. I was sitting on my couch watching TV. I didn't do anything."— Cody Jones (@CJonesScout) March 1, 2014
And Billy Donovan, who has been to the mountaintop — been to every stage there is in college basketball — is finally finding it hard to get this team to do one thing: Celebrate.
Donovan said he had to encourage the team to celebrate more after wins at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt: "They're pretty levelheaded."— Cody Jones (@CJonesScout) March 1, 2014
It's a good problem for a coach to have. These Gators don't just want it now.
They want it forever.