It was Florida, a team playing on its home court, where they hadn’t lost their last 26 games, against Texas A&M, a team that was 1-3 in true road games this season and statistically ranks outside the nation’s top 200 in both rebounds and scoring percentage. Plus, it was Patric Young’s birthday. Who would you expect to win?
Me too. In fact, I expected it to be pretty easy in all honesty.
But not this easy.
Michael Frazier scored 21, Dorian Finney Smith added 11, and the birthday boy scored 9 and also hauled in 14 rebounds- one point short of a double double- as Florida crushed the hopelessly outmanned Aggies, 69-36.
It didn’t start too well for Florida, though.
Early on, Texas A&M played some solid defense, forcing the Gators to look for their third or fourth options on the play quite often. The result was four turnovers in the first 9 minutes, including two in the first 90 seconds as the Aggies played tight and forced some really small windows for the passes to go through. Luckily for the Gators, the Aggies could never capitalize with points, as guards Alex Caruso, Jamal Jones and Shawn Smith went a combined 4-21 from the field and they just couldn’t get their inside game going. Nevertheless, Texas A&M played good enough defense to keep themselves in a game they had no business being in.
But the charade ended when Devonte Fitzgerald fouled Patric Young on one of his trademark baby hook shots with 9:06 left in the first half. Young made both free throws- and that kick started a 40-14 Gator rampage that lasted until about 4 minutes to go in the game. Texas A&M was finally revived from their swoon and managed to score a few consolation buckets to save face, but it didn’t damage the lasting impression Florida left its viewers: this is a damned good basketball team, and a near invincible one on its home floor.
Y’all know me. As the game got out of hand, I tried to look for something to pick on, I really did. But I really couldn’t find much. Sure, the Gators could shoot better, but that’s not really coachable at this level of basketball; some days you’re on, some days you’re off. Today, Florida was off, really off, and still nearly doubled up an opponent because their defense was so good (and, well, let’s face it: A&M couldn’t find the hoop with a road map). I’m not saying this Florida team doesn’t have a weakness, or that there’s no blueprint to beating them, because those statements aren’t true. Florida will be in trouble on a bad shooting day if they face a team with a really high-powered offensive machine. But we won’t have to worry about that until at least the Sweet 16, if not later, so let’s not cross that bridge until we get to it.
A quick look at the stats reveals just how ready Florida was for this game on a 43 hour turnaround, regardless of what Jimmy Dykes, or Bob Knight or any of the other so-called “experts” want to say. Florida grabbed more than twice as many rebounds as A&M (55-27), blocked four shots to A&M’s one, and racked up five steals compared to A&M’s three. Those are the three main hustle stats, and Florida easily won all three. So question Florida’s effort in this game, ESPN, and I’ll chew your head off. The Gators shot 41% from the field- not fantastic, sure, but that’s leagues better than A&M’s 25.9%. Finally, the Gators went 62% from the line, which suggests that Florida fans may have to just bite their lips and cross their fingers come tournament time because the team is so up and down in this department.
This is also the last game Florida will have to play without highly touted freshman Chris Walker. The whole punishment was a bunch of bullshit to begin with, so it’s nice to get some closure and just focus on the future even though his absence didn’t really cost Florida much to begin with. With the way Patric Young went all Hungry-Hungry-Hippos on the boards tonight, Walker’s going to make a good rebounding team even better, and may even add that scoring presence that Young sometimes is, but is sometimes not. He’ll make his debut against Missouri on Tuesday, a team that played themselves from “solidly in the NCAA Tournament” to “solidly on the bubble” with a home loss to Kentucky. So they’ll be desperate, but I just don’t think they can match up with the pure talent, athleticism, and everyday hunger this Gator team brings to the table.
Anyway, in all kinds of weather applies to the good stuff, too. It still is great to be a Florida Gator, and always will be, no matter how bad the football team is now or how much I wish Jeremy Foley had gotten rid of Will Muschamp. So, per the song, let’s all stick together and enjoy the rest of this ride. Something tells me it could be a good one.