Florida 72, Missouri 49: That's the Gators' ball

Kevin C. Cox

Florida was in a tie game at halftime against Missouri. The Gators took that game in the second half by playing their ball.

Florida was tied with Missouri at halftime, 29-29. The Gators had made just three of 14 two-pointers, committed seven turnovers, and missed six free throws; only six threes and some good defense were keeping Florida up on the feisty Tigers.

The second half went exactly as Florida would've liked, and got the Gators a blowout 72-49 win in Friday's SEC Tournament quarterfinal, their first game as the 2014 SEC champions.

Florida started the second half on a 7-0 run. It responded to a 9-2 run by Missouri that cut its lead to two points with a 7-0 run that took 46 seconds — one spurred by a Scottie Wilbekin steal that turned into a Scottie Wilbekin three — and turned that run into a 14-2 run, then a 21-4 run. The 43-20 scoring margin in the second could've been significantly larger had Florida let its starters finish the game; Missouri scored 11 of its 20 second half points in the final 4:25 of play.

Wilbekin literally ripped the ball away from a Missouri player at one point, and got credit for a steal. Walking away from that play, he pounded his chest, roaring "THAT'S MY BALL."

It was Florida's ball, on this day, that prevailed, as has been the case for most of Florida's games against SEC foes in 2014. It's hard to see anyone playing better than these Gators do when they're on.

And while they were on against Missouri, they weren't even at their best.

Wilbekin (five threes and 15 points) and Michael Frazier II (five threes, 15 points) each stroked it for the Gators, but they were the only Florida starters to finish in double digits. Patric Young had nine points thanks to a 1-for-6 day at the line; Casey Prather had nine points thanks to a 1-for-6 day from the field. Dorian Finney-Smith added 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench, leading all players in the latter category, but was not particularly great. Kasey Hill had a 7-5-5 line — and got yanked by Billy Donovan after some spotty play early in the first half, including a puzzling decision to pull up, which resulted in an airball.

And DeVon Walker missed both of his threes and all three of his shots, and Will Yeguete made one of his four shots and had just three points, and Chris Walker's four points all came in garbage time, and ... you get it. It wasn't a great day for Florida, but Florida was great nonetheless.

The victory is Florida's 19th against SEC competition this year, tying 2012 Kentucky for the most wins against SEC competition without a loss. Tomorrow, Florida will face either Tennessee or South Carolina for a chance at its 20th such win.

Maybe the Gators will start slow. Maybe they'll start hot. Maybe they'll be excellent at the line. Maybe they'll catch fire from beyond the arc. Maybe the defense will be great. Maybe the offense will be clean and calm.

Probably, Florida will win.

The only question left about this Florida team against SEC teams this season appears to be "How?"

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