The Florida Gators didn’t handle their last #2 ranking very well.
Looks like this time around, Florida might get to keep it- and then some. Should Florida beat Mississippi in Oxford on Saturday, the Gators are most likely going to find themselves sitting at #1 after top ranked Syracuse fell victim to the upset bug (or the awful jerseys bug) against a previously 6-19 Boston College team at home.
Make no mistake, though. There was nothing pretty about Florida’s 71-66 win over Auburn last night, aside from the fact that we’re sitting here talking about a victory and not one of the biggest upsets in school history- for the wrong reasons. That, and the fact that the Gators seem to be making up ways to win on the fly.
The latest nail biter included perhaps the biggest three of Michael Frazier’s life, Patric Young nailing two free throws despite being a notoriously shaky free throw shooter and Auburn’s Allen Payne “inbounding” the ball to Florida’s bench.
For the second time this year, Auburn played Florida extremely tough. Florida managed to lead for only about 7 and a half minutes, and the Tigers’ lead spanned up to 8 points on multiple occasions. Tajh Shamsid-Deen (17 points) lit it up from outside (5-8 from three point land) and Chris Denson added 15 points of his own.
But after Frazier hit the three to put Florida up 66-65, it was Denson who (after making the first) missed the free throw that would have put Auburn up one with 20 seconds to go, and after Young got the rebound, Asaun Dixon-Tatum decided to test his free throw shooting ability by fouling him and giving him two shots. Which, when you sit back and digest it, wasn’t quite as stupid of an idea as people might think: Young appeared to not be 100% (which Billy Donovan would confirm; actually to an even greater extent) and he’d been struggling all his career from the free throw line. It wasn’t such an unfathomable notion that Young would miss both, or at least one. That way, instead of letting Florida run its offense, and not only giving the Gators the final possession of the game, but arguably a better opportunity to score two points than they would have from Young the free throw line, Auburn could get the rebound after the second miss or inbound it if he made the second, and unless he made both (which, let’s admit, is no sure bet), would have a shot to win the game.
Instead of choking and missing one or both, Young- who’s up for the Senior CLASS Award (vote for him here)- made the decision seem like a foolish one by calmly hitting both, which sent the basketball Swamp into a frenzy. In the ensuing confusion, Payne got mixed up somehow and fired a pass to KT Harrell, who unfortunately for Auburn, wasn’t looking, and it bounced out of bounds. Then Auburn fouled Wilbekin, he made both, Auburn missed again, Young got fouled again and made one of two, and that’s how we got to 71-66.
And you know what? Despite the fact that Auburn led for the overwhelming majority of the game, the Gators led when there were zeroes on the clock. After letting the game sink in, I don’t think Florida played as badly as I claimed they did last night (other than being too slow on their defensive rotations). They shot well above the 70% bar I set several weeks ago from the free throw line (82.8%), out rebounded Auburn by a comfortable margin (24-18) and while they didn’t shoot particularly well from the floor, they weren’t terrible, either (40%).
What’s all that mean? Essentially, Auburn played as well as they possibly could have. They shot threes at a “they’ll have to come down to earth eventually” rate for the entire 40 minutes, and because they never did come down to earth, the score remained close the entire way. See games in which Florida’s opponents don’t shoot at a ridiculously high clip, and do miss shots, like Tennessee and Texas A&M did in Gainesville. Those teams got a combined 80 points because they were colder than a fudge pop. Auburn made it close because they were hotter than the sun. There wasn’t a whole lot Florida could have done differently on defense, other than play the perimeter tighter and take away some of Auburn’s looks, and offensively, Florida scored 71- which is a mere .1 short of their 71.1 average.
So, to recap: it was a pretty stormy night in Gainesville, if you don’t mind playing with the “In All Kinds Of Weather” metaphor I used when creating this site, because Auburn made shots. The only difference between this dark and cloudy Auburn game and those sunny-skies of the Tennessee and Texas A&M games was the fact that Auburn was hot and UT/A&M were not. Florida didn’t play particularly badly, other than maybe being slightly complacent after taking down Kentucky in Rupp last Saturday. It’s just that Auburn hit Florida with their best shot, and everything aligned just right for Auburn to pull it off- a perfect storm. But unlike every single previous Billy Donovan team to this point- including the 04 teams- this team took it in stride, and responded by landing the haymaker with Young and then Wilbekin hitting their free throws.
And just like the Bible says happened after the Noah’s ark flood, out popped a rainbow at the end of the storm.
This game will not be a lasting scar on whatever successful body of work the Gators finish the year with, and will be nothing but a funny memory when looked back on in years to come.
Everything’s gonna be OK.
Auburn did not.
War Damn Gator.