The Differences is borrowed from Rob Mahoney's feature of nearly the same name at The Two-Man Game, and makes a number of points equivalent to the margin of victory about games the Gators recently played.
Florida 71, Auburn 66
This was one hell of a night for Patric Young, even if it started about as poorly as it could've.
Young got whistled for a foul literally three seconds into the game; I'm not checking every box score this year before publishing this post, but that's probably the quickest foul in a Florida game this year. It happened so early that I was still walking to the O'Connell Center at the time — I was running late even before I decided to pull into one full lot and another that is a 24/7 red decal lot, and had to make seven- and 11-point turns to escape from them — and had no idea who had gotten Florida's first foul when the refs whistled the second. Pat would then spend much of the first half shuttling back and forth to the bench: He was subbed out at 17:37, subbed in at 16:58, subbed out at 14:12, subbed in at 10:55, subbed out at 5:19, and subbed in at 2:32.
Keen-eyed observers who know about media timeouts — the ones programmed into every college basketball game at the stoppages under the 16:00 mark, the 12:00 mark, the the 8:00 mark, and the 4:00 mark of each half to allow for broadcasters to air commercials — will recognize that the second and third times Pat returned in the first half, he did so after media timeouts. Maybe that was Billy Donovan resting Young for as long as he could — on a night when he later said Pat wasn't expected to play thanks to his chronic knee troubles, that makes sense, especially given how Young labored for stretches of the first half — but it also prevented Young from getting in a rhythm, as he had just one field goal attempt, and missed it, and grabbed just one rebound in the first half. He did have two assists and a block, but the first 20 minutes featured less Pat than usual.
The second half, on the other hand, was probably the best of Patric Young's Florida career.
Young got involved immediately, dishing his third assist of the night to Scottie Wilbekin for a half-opening three. He threw down an alley-oop from Wilbekin two possessions later. Two possessions after that, he put in a game-tying layup that finished Florida's 11-3 flurry to tie the game after an eight-point halftime deficit — Florida's largest of the year. And, notably, he didn't leave the game in the second half until the 14:55 mark — after the first media timeout.
Pat came back in at 13:19, and made his presence felt again and again in that stint: Two free throws at 13:05, a defensive board at 12:39, an offensive board that turned into an and-one putback at 10:49, a defensive rebound at 10:16. When he returned to the bench at 9:56 for one last extended breather, he had already notched nine points, three rebounds, and an assist in the second half.Patric Young had one hell of a night, and his best half ever, against Auburn.Pat would return at the 8:24 mark, and immediately made the only real mistake of his second half, overcomplicating a reverse on a seeing-eye pass from Dorian Finney-Smith that would have given Florida a three-point lead; though he missed, he made up for it at the other end with a block in transition — eight seconds after missing a layup, Young swatted away a Chris Denson attempt at a coast-to-coast layup. And after Auburn took the lead at 55-54 by scoring on its next possession, Pat put in a hanging layup off an inaccurate alley-oop from Wilbekin to take back the lead at the 7:00 mark.
Young wouldn't make a positive contribution for another couple of minutes, but it was another bit of atonement: After he fouled K.T. Harrell, who made one of two free throws, with 5:30 to play, Pat put in a layup with 5:10 to play. Exactly two minutes after that, Young fouled Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, and headed to the bench for a breather at the final media timeout. Donovan kept Young off the floor for Dixon-Tatum's free throws, likely to get Pat every resting breath possible, but sent him back into the breach at 3:09, after Finney-Smith was sent to the line by an Auburn foul. Pat played 8:23 of the final 8:24 of last night's game, but that second he missed was really more like five minutes.
It was a blessing in that final four minutes. Young flourished in them, helping Florida force an empty trip on his first defensive possession and tying the game with a 1-for-2 trip to the line on his first offensive possession. After Auburn took back the lead on its next possession, Young factored into another stop, and got the defensive board. Michael Frazier II's three with 41 seconds to go would give Florida the lead, but Auburn had a chance to take it back at the line, only for Denson to miss the back end of his two shots, followed by a manful rebound from Young, and Dixon-Tatum's inexplicable foul on him.
Now, normally, fouling a player in a tie game with 18 seconds to go makes no sense — but because the player in question is Young, whose shooting from the stripe has been, charitably (pun intended), iffy in his career, it didn't feel inexcusable to me. Until, of course, Young — still shooting until 60 percent from the line this year despite a nice spate from the line of late — made Auburn pay by calmly sinking both free throws, just like he thought he would.
Pat's night wasn't done — he would get the game's final rebound (of a Harrell prayer) and final point (on another 1-for-2 trip for the line), and conclude a second half in which he had 17 points, six rebounds, an assist, and a block, went 5-for-6 from the field and 7-for-9 from the line, and sealed Florida's toughest home win in 2014. As games go, 17 and 7 with three assists and two blocks is close to Pat's best.
As halves go, this was Pat's best, without a doubt.
Pat wasn't Florida's only hero late: Frazier's three was the biggest shot I can remember a Florida player hitting in the O'Connell Center since Chandler Parsons beat South Carolina at the buzzer. And, no, it doesn't have the same chillbump factor as that Parsons three — which finished a South Carolina team that went 15-16 on the year, and helped Florida move to 3-2 in SEC play, and thus didn't quite have the importance Frazier's did — but the roar in the O'Dome for that shot going in was primal.
Frazier's been "Hot Pockets" around here for a little under a month because of his streakiness, and that's a fair nickname, I think, but he has, had, and will have the greenest of lights from beyond the arc because he's the only Gator who deserves it, and because Florida needs him to shoot.
Frazier's accuracy of late has been much maligned, but he's 39-for-105 from three-point range in SEC play — that's still 37 percent! It's also really good compared to Gators of the recent past. Bradley Beal, who was on a team with other players that posed credible threats — Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy, even Erving Walker — from beyond the arc, made 22 of 70 threes in SEC play (31.5 percent) in 2011-12. Boynton, playing on a team more like this 2013-14 one in 2010-11, had a greener light than Frazier did, and he only made 39 of 107 threes in SEC play; he made 39.8 percent of his threes in 2011-12, but he was also on the hottest streak of his career for most of that stretch.
And Florida needs Frazier to stretch the floor, because no one else does. Finney-Smith — tagged with the perfect nickname, "Josh F. Smith," by a commenter last night — is an I-really-wish-I-were-kidding 11-for-47 from three in SEC play, and 0-for-18 in February, despite taking at least two threes in all six Florida games. Wilbekin has been superb all year, but his threes off the dribble are (and should be) a last resort for Florida on offense, and without Kasey Hill around to shift Wilbekin to off guard last night, he went 3-for-8 from deep. DeVon Walker hit two threes — and, thus, posted an Offensive Rating of 211! — last night, but he's not totally there as a shooter yet, and Will Yeguete — who should not be taking threes, let's be real — is shooting a better percentage this year. Hill is 5-for-33 from three, and poised to have one of the worst years of three-point shooting ever by a Florida player who took more than 30 threes.
Donovan can live with Frazier shooting himself into and out of slumps because it extends the defense to the perimeter and makes life easier for a team that needs to penetrate — Casey Prather, especially, depends on teams being forced to guard out to the arc and not attack the paint — to be consistently effective on offense. We're going to have to live with him being cold from time to time as a result.
And if someone whines about Frazier to you in the next six weeks, just send them this post, and remind them to click on the video of the shot. That shot, more than anything but Pat's performance, gave Florida a new school record for wins, and 30 straight home wins, and gave every fan in attendance the thrill of the year. When you get Hot Pockets just right, it's a wonderful feeling.
Wilbekin had a relatively quiet night — coming off consecutive career highs in points, inarguably the best week of his basketball life, it would've been difficult not to have a "relatively" quiet night — and still scored 15 points, had four assists, and committed one turnover.
He's been especially careful with the ball of late, with one turnover in his last three games.
After tonight, #Gators PG Scottie Wilbekin has one turnover in his last 106 minutes.— Cody Jones (@CJonesScout) February 20, 2014
And it actually dates back a little further than that: In Florida's win over Alabama, Wilbekin had back-to-back turnovers in the first half and got benched, but didn't turn the ball over again until an Alabama steal in the final two minutes — which Wilbekin answered immediately with a steal of his own, mind you.
So, really, Scottie Wilbekin has two turnovers in his last 125 minutes.
And that care with the ball, maybe more than anything else, has been the consistent factor in Florida surviving four straight games in which opponents have shot the ball very, very well — Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Auburn all finished above 50 percent in Effective Field Goal Percentage, with performances ranking first, 10th, fourth, and second against Florida this year, but all four teams have gotten very little off turnovers when it mattered.
After Alabama had 15 points off turnovers during the first half of that game, Florida conceded just four points off turnovers to the Tide in the second half, just eight to Tennessee, a mere seven to Kentucky's team of transition assassins, and 12 to Auburn last night.
Florida's spotty perimeter defense aside, all four of those teams have been hot (read: shooting well above their expected level) in their games against the Gators, and when teams are hot,and making shots, it becomes incumbent on teams to turn up one thing or another in response on defense. For Florida, which already squeezes foes' offensive efficiency by being stingy on the glass and monstrous against two-pointers, limiting points off turnovers was about the last thing it could do to get more juice out of its defense — and it has done that in large part because it has simply limited turnovers.
Florida's win, coupled with Syracuse's loss against Boston College last night, puts Florida in position to be the No. 1 team in both polls if it wins Saturday's game at Mississippi. And while I think there's a decent chance Florida will lose on Saturday, and not just because of the history of Florida on the verge Year2 laid out at Team Speed Kills, Florida fully deserves to be the No. 1 team in those polls at this moment in time.
Yes, Syracuse has just one loss to Florida's two, but Florida's losses were both on the road, at Wisconsin in November without Wilbekin and Finney-Smith, and at UConn in December without Hill and without Wilbekin in the final minute. Florida is on a winning streak akin to the one Boston College ended last night, and has been playing much better than Syracuse of late; hell, Syracuse, with or without Baye Mousse Keita, hasn't really been playing well, not since that epic win over Duke ... which happened in January.
And losing to this Boston College team — No. 194 in RPI coming into Wednesday, No. 169 in RPI coming out, and No. 152 in KenPom coming in, No. 131 in KenPom coming out — would be like Florida losing to South Carolina (No. 127 in KenPom right now) or Texas A&M (No. 136 when it visited Florida) at home, in games the Gators won by 16 and 33 points. The Auburn team that took Florida to the wire beat Boston College earlier this year; BC was 6-19 coming in; the game was in the Carrier Dome. This was a bad, bad loss for Syracuse, no matter how you spin it, as the most charitable possible take — Syracuse was bound to lose at some point, ran into an immensely inspired Boston College squad, and went cold as BC got hot — still doesn't explain Syracuse scoring 59 points at home against maybe the worst defense in a major conference.
And Florida's not really in danger of losing No. 1 to any team but Syracuse. Wichita State's undefeated, but it basically plays Boston College every night in the Missouri Valley Conference — just two non-Wichita MVC teams have better KenPom rankings than BC does — and the Gators leapfrogged the Shockers last weekend. Duke could magnify Syracuse's struggles by blowing the doors off the Orange at Cameron on Saturday, and might be finishing a really impressive five-day, three-win stretch if it can do so, but the Blue Devils' five losses are a ton for a potential No. 1; Arizona would impress a lot of hoops junkies by finishing a road swing this week without a loss, but the Wildcats just don't look like the nation's No. 1 — much like Syracuse — of late.
No. 1 should be Florida's for the taking. Now we get to see if this team of takers can scramble up to the summit on Saturday.