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Florida 88, West Virginia 71: Gators rain threes, weather press in signature win

Florida came in as a topsy-turvy team. Then the Gators upended one of the nation's best squads.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Florida and West Virginia scuffled prior to their Big 12-SEC Challenge opener on Saturday, with the Mountaineers' pregame huddle near the midcourt Gator Head causing one of them to bump into Dorian Finney-Smith and touch off a shoving match.

From then on, despite the refs' best efforts to stop the fight, the Gators floored the Mountaineers.

Florida hit a sizzling 12 of 20 threes, forced 19 West Virginia turnovers, and led by double digts for the entire second half, cruising to an 88-71 win that might not have been as close as that score indicates.

This was, save a 12-0 West Virginia run in the first half and a brief period of foul trouble in the second, both a dominant win and Florida's best performance of the year. Dorian Finney-Smith had a season-high 24 points and sank five threes, KeVaughn Allen scored 19 points on just nine shots, and the Gators' short bench — Justin Leon missed this game with concussion symptoms, Alex Murphy remains out, and DeVon Walker didn't play — combined for 22 points, with Brandone Francis-Ramirez making all three of his threes and Schuyler Rimmer pulling down six rebounds in limited action.

Even Florida's worst performances weren't really bad ones. Chris Chiozza had six turnovers, but also had 10 points and six assists. Kasey Hill had just four points on six shots, but timed them well, making a layup at the end of the first half and making two free throws in one trip in the second. John Egbunu played sparingly after quick fouls, but had nine points on four shots in his limited action.

And what Florida did is even more impressive given its opponent. West Virginia had the nation's best defense and nation's best three-point defense entering Saturday, and got scalded for 88 points and a 60 percent clip. The Mountaineers' vaunted press produced just 14 Florida turnovers — on Tuesday, Vanderbilt forced 13 against the Gators — and actually backfired more often than not, with Chiozza, Hill, and Allen drawing fouls that cost West Virginia valuable minutes from its best players.

This is the sort of win that should be a wake-up call for Florida: The Gators can be this good on a regular basis. And that they have been great on Saturdays since the beginning of SEC play — dumping Georgia, holding off LSU and the unstoppable Ben Simmons, torching Mississippi in Oxford, bombarding Auburn, and now eviscerating West Virginia — is a tantalizing glimpse of what could be.

A daunting week looms, with a pack of hunters from Arkansas and Kentucky's unfairly talented roster up next for Florida.

But the Gators showed on this Saturday that they can snap.