At the beginning, there was a 6-6 stretch of play that teased a rare close game between Florida and Georgia in Gainesville. By the end of Florida's 72-50 win over the Bulldogs, there were only echoes of cheers — and of one loud and repeated appeal to the NCAA — and memories of yet another easy win for the Gators against a supposed rival.
Michael Frazier II had a game-high 21 points, 15 of which came on 5-for-12 three-point shooting, and was joined by four other Gators in double figures. Will Yeguete was one of them, as he emerged from a prolonged slump to go for 12 points — 10 by halftime — and six rebounds; Patric Young, who played in front of thousands of fans wearing orange beards on "Patric Young Beard Night," was another, putting in 10 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Both Yeguete (25 minutes) and Young (26) did their damage in relatively little time on the court after quick whistles sent both to the bench with alacrity in the second half, but even those calls couldn't do much against the Gators on this night.
After that 6-6 start, Florida blitzed the Bulldogs with a 24-4 run comprised of an 11-0 run and a 10-0 run sandwiched around a brief moment of even play, and would maintain its 20-point lead heading into halftime. Young and Yeguete each picked up two fouls in the first 5:05 of the second half, and Georgia cut Florida's lead to 14 points with 11:38 to play, but the Dawgs would get no closer, as Florida answered with a 14-3 run and added a 9-2 fusillade that lasted all of 1:03 and included threes from Frazier, Kasey Hill, and Dorian Finney-Smith (14 points, five rebounds, three assists) on consecutive possessions.
Florida hit 11 threes on the night, a season high, but six of them came in the final 7:34 of play, with the game firmly in the grasp; this win had more to do with Florida's customary brilliance on the offensive boards (11 offensive rebounds on 29 misses) and stifling defense that held Georgia under 40 points until 1:57 remained. (The Dawgs pulled off an adorable 11-2 run against mostly reserves to finish the game.)
And so the story of the second half became the Rowdy Reptiles' vocal support for Florida forward Chris Walker, who remains ineligible to play for the Gators thanks to the NCAA's deliberate speed in clearing him to play after reportedly having an unofficial visit to Kansas in 2012 paid for by an AAU coach who was subsequently barred from coaching after his improper relationship with an NBA agent came to light. Fans, a few in white t-shirts with FREE CHRIS WALKER lettered on them, repeatedly chanted the same slogan. And when Walker did manage to get onto the court...
Chris Walker finally got some playing time tonight. #UFvsUGA #GatorNation #GatorFollowTrain pic.twitter.com/mdYbTv6xPf— Kan Li (@kanli) January 15, 2014
...though it was merely to fix a net at a referee's request during a stoppage of play, those fans chanted "FREE CHRIS WALKER" loud enough for the words to come through clear as day on the ESPNU broadcast.
Walker's Florida future is still lamentably murky, with the same frustrating hopes that a resolution may well come soon that were valid in mid-December lingering. But the Gators are looking nearly unstoppable without him, and have looked very good without leading scorer Casey Prather over their last two games, coming back on Arkansas on the road and pulverizing a Georgia team that it needed to pulverize.
With Walker and Prather both in Billy Donovan's rotation, their potential is hair-raising — and might include net-cutting.