Coming off a three game winning streak as the Florida Gators near the middle of the regular season, the team had a lot to prove at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida for the Orange Bowl Classic against the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. With high hopes (and rankings) coming into the 2014 season, the Gators performance has been quite disappointing, with a 6-4 record laden with close wins against sub-par competition. A starting lineup of young guys that haven’t had adequate in-game experience may be to blame, and that showed during today’s game, regardless of the score.
The Florida Gators came out of the BB&T Center with a 63-50 victory, but it wasn’t a pretty one. During Donovan’s pre game interview, he stated multiple times that this game would “come down to who wins the paint” and stressed this during the five days of practice leading up to the Orange Bowl Classic. Though the Gators knew Wake Forest’s plan of action coming into the game, the rebound battle was a struggle, with Wake Forest gaining a +4 advantage in the margin. During the game, the Deacons stuck to their game plan of controlling the paint, as it was obvious that Wake Forest was trying to force Florida to the outside rim of the court to run down the clock and force an uncontested long shot; a game plan that worked (relatively well) as Florida was only 6-23 from beyond the arc.
Defensively, the Gators have shown trouble with transitioning to their defensive assignments smoothly and quickly, which came back to bite them multiple times. Throughout the game there were many situations in which a deep rebound led to a fast break by the Deacons that the Gators just couldn’t defend. If there is more time for the team to set up their defensive scheme, the Gators have a lockdown defense that produces a fair amount of turnovers, forcing 24 during this Saturday’s game. However, the young team lets their experience show through during the pivotal fast break plays. Had the Demon Deacons been able to speed up the pace and force a fast transition more throughout the game, there may have been a vastly different story to the Orange Bowl Classic.
On the offensive side of the ball, the team is facing some major issues with consistency. The first few minutes of the game were littered with miss after miss followed by rebound after rebound. The Deacons and the Gators battled it out for a bit in the beginning of the first half until Florida’s offense decided to wake up, as they went on a 13-0 run which helped Dorion Finney-Smith put up a good portion of his 16 points during the game and effectively shut down Wake Forest for over four minutes, a dry spell that only came to an end at the free throw line. Up 22-10 almost midway through the first half, the Gators revealed ebb-and-flow tendencies once again, as the Deacons scored 7 unanswered points while the Gators offense missed over 10 shots in a row and were scoreless for almost four minutes as well. The remainder of the game seemed to follow this pattern, as the Gators seemed as if they were about to pull away until the Deacons came back to stay in the fight. The game ended in a 13 point win for the Gators, but the final spread doesn’t accurately depict the battle on the court.
There were a lot of blood, sweat, and tears shed in this battle. Literally. Midway through the first half, Michael Frazier was attempting a three-point shot and collided with a Wake Forest defender, opening up a fairly large gash in Frazier’s head that would send him out of the game for medical assistance. Fourteen stitches later, Frazier was back in the game to finish the job against Wake Forest sporting a large bandage for the remainder of the game.
This game has depicted what, in my opinion, will be the story of the 2014 Florida Gator basketball team. A team full of extremely talented, young guys who just don’t have enough in-game experience to get through the game on a mental level. Against teams like Wake Forest, pure talent may be able to bring you out victorious, but as we have seen earlier in the season, the Gators have lost very winnable games against Miami, Georgetown, North Carolina, and Kansas that were simply lost due to lack of mental discipline. It is refreshing to see young players such as Kasey Hill and Alex Murphy get adequate amounts of playing time, as in-game experience is exactly what they need in order to take their game, and the team, to the next level. Hopefully the team will begin to mesh together and use their talent to take the team back to the standard of Florida Basketball.