Florida had every opportunity to lose its road test against Arkansas in a rocking Bud Walton Arena on Saturday. Leading scorer Casey Prather was out, key contributors Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young were dealing with nagging injuries, the Razorbacks were hot from distance, and all that combined to put Florida in a 64-57 hole with just under five minutes to go.
The Gators still prevailed, 84-82, in overtime, securing maybe the biggest win of their 2013-14 season thus far.
Dorian Finney-Smith had 22 points and 15 rebounds, leading Florida in the former category and all players in the latter. Wilbekin had 18 points off the bench, and made eight of his 10 free throws; Young added 10 points and eight boards before fouling out in overtime.
And Florida needed all of that to survive the Razorbacks with Prather out.
Rashad Madden had 23 points and made five threes for Arkansas. Coty Clarke added 16 points and 14 rebounds. Fantastic freshman Bobby Portis chipped in 14 and seven. Arkansas basically played as well as it has for much of the last two seasons in Bud Walton Arena, where it had not lost since November 2012, and hadn't even trailed in nearly a full month.
Florida just played better.
Arkansas at home has been one of the toughest outs in college basketball for almost all of its 23-game winning streak; Florida ended it. Arkansas got threes to fall and pounded Florida on the boards, pulling down 20 offensive rebounds that led to 72 shots; it didn't matter. The Razorbacks got timely fouls in an unevenly-officiated game (for both teams) that sent Michael Frazier II to the bench in the first half and fouled out Young in overtime; Florida perservered, making 25 of 34 free throws.
This was Florida going through a hurricane — Arkansas's pressure defense forced 17 turnovers, by the way — and coming out alive on the other end, only a little worse for wear. It is a performance that will be remembered in March, when the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is filling out its top lines. It's the sort of combination of process and results that ought to hearten Billy Donovan, and the type of win that might fuel a team that still has ample room to improve as it swings into the SEC schedule.
This is arguably the best win of this season for Florida, and it's a wonderful thing that we can argue about whether this win, or Florida's win over Kansas, or Florida's win over Memphis, is the "real" best win.
It is a damn good day to be a Gator. And it's good to remember that "In all kinds of weather" applies to the sunny stuff, too.