The Florida Gators looked largely lost and occasionally listless on Wednesday in the noon opener of the 2018 Battle 4 Atlantis, and fell to Oklahoma as a result.
On Thursday night, the Gators responded to that defeat with defense, intensity, and a lot more want-to — and, because of that, blew out Stanford by a 72-49 score.
Florida led just 2-0 after the game’s first four minutes, as both teams started ice-cold from the field on Paradise Isle, but would control the half by throttling the Cardinal, allowing just 13 points before halftime and just two to Stanford starters — both coming on free throws with 0.4 seconds left in the period.
And Florida’s offense would be keyed by unusual heroes, with sophomore Deaundrae Ballard and freshman Noah Locke stepping up in the stead of senior Jalen Hudson, who began the game on the bench and would play just five minutes. Ballard scored a career-high 19 points off the bench to lead all scorers, torching Stanford for a second consecutive Thanksgiving, and Locke, who started for Hudson, put up 11 points and sank three triples, each the most of his young career.
KeVaughn Allen was also active at both ends, scoring 13 points and accruing four steals, and Andrew Nembhard continued his steady play as a creator by tallying five assists to just two turnovers and scoring eight points.
Florida’s effectiveness on the defensive end was also significantly improved from its Wednesday showing. The Cardinal were flummoxed for the whole first half, making just four shots — only two of which were not dunks — as Florida pressured and clogged passing lanes with its athleticism and length, a phenomenon leading to 15 Florida steals on the night.
The Gators kept Stanford in check on the glass, too, allowing just five offensive rebounds a day after conceding 15 to Oklahoma and pulling down eight offensive boards of their own.
And though Stanford actually outscored Florida’s first half in its second, with 36 points after intermission, the Gators held and extended their lead with 40 second-half points of their own, keeping the Cardinal to 37 percent shooting on the night and shooting 53 percent from the floor and 47 percent from three in their own stead.
Florida moves on to the fifth place game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, where the Gators will meet the winner of Thursday night’s matchup between Butler and Middle Tennessee State at 9:30 p.m. Eastern on ESPNU. If the Gators play Butler — as seems likely — it will mean two matchups against the Bulldogs, already set to visit Gainesville in December, on Florida’s non-conference schedule.