Other than Florida’s first win over Tennessee this year, I can’t remember the last time a regular season victory felt so good- for a number of reasons.
Where to start?
The fact that this was EXACTLY the kind of game the Gators teams of the past three years would almost certainly give away? On that same note, the fact that Florida controlled the last four minutes of the game and did what they wanted? The fact that the Gators displayed the toughness that they didn’t even have three weeks ago- and used it to win? The fact that Florida’s got just their second win in Knoxville since 2005? The fact that Florida just swept one of its most hated rivals in basketball for just the second time since the 2001-02 season?
That last bit’s probably the bulk of it, judging by my live tweets on IAKOW’s twitter handle as the clock ticked away. I get more enjoyment out of an entertaining game of basketball than I do mocking opponents, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to do it for certain teams (like Tennessee), and I know I’m far from the only one who hates that god-awful Rocky Top song. So before I get into reliving the game itself, enjoy yourselves.
There’s more to it, and if you want to see the rest of the song, click here, here, here and here. But I don’t want to take up a ridiculous amount of space for those who want to relive the actual game, like myself, because the basketball aspect of it was actually really exciting.
Florida jumped out to an early 10-2 lead, but then, just like against Alabama, they watched it slowly disintegrate as Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes went off. Tennessee slowly chipped into the lead, and finally took it for themselves late in the first half. I mean, they had to shoot at least somewhat better than they did in the first game in Gainesville, but they shot better than I could have expected. Home court tends to empower teams that way. Down three as the first half drew to a close, Scottie Wilbekin put up a runner that cut the Vols’ lead down to one at the break.
That was a pretty brief recap of the first half, I know. But it paled in comparison to what happened in the next 20 minutes.
The second half started, and the Gators immediately went on a 9-2 rip. Wilbekin was mostly responsible for it, though Will Yeguette did his share by making a tough layup, getting fouled and hitting the free throw. From that point, it turned into a really fun to watch back and forth battle; McRae would hit a jumper, but Patric Young would answer. With Florida up 49-46, Kasey Hill went coast to coast twice and hit two big layups, but Stokes tipped in a miss and Josh Richardson hit a three to bring it back to 53-51. Dorian-Finney Smith got fouled, and hit both free throws, but Jarnell Stokes would respond with a three point play to bring it back to one.
That’s when the heart of the Gators took over.
First, Michael Frazier- Mr. Dependable- hit a huge three. Then Wilbekin hit one of his own. Suddenly, Florida’s 55-54 lead was 61-54, just like that. Jordan McRae was fouled on a drive, but he could only make one of two. Then came the Florida possession that lasted longer than most of those engineered by the football team. Wilbekin drained the shot clock, and then missed a jumper, but Patric Young got the rebound. Young put it right back up, and missed too, but… this happened.
Sorry, I just figured out how to make GIFs, so this one’s kinda small and grainy. I’ll do better in the future, I promise. But anyway, that was essentially the game. At that point, Tennessee played the fouling game, and Florida didn’t lose it like they have so many times in the past few years, but won it emphatically.
That last sentence perhaps epitomizes the entire game. Tennessee played well, but they aren’t good enough to beat Florida at their best, even at home where things just go right for SEC teams. The Volunteers didn’t lose this game; the Gators simply won it. They wanted it more, which speaks volumes about this team considering the fact that Tennessee needed it about ten times more than Florida.
That may sound familiar to some of you, and if it does, it’s because I said the exact same thing after Florida beat a Mississippi State team that at the time was very much alive for an NCAA Tournament berth (although subsequent losses to Texas A&M and Vanderbilt have since closed that window). But it’s a pattern, and a much better one to have than the habit of losing easily winnable games. God, the list from last year alone goes on forever: Mississippi, Tennessee, Arizona, Missouri, and Kentucky. Then there were the Elite Eight chokes against Butler and Louisville, the despicable non-conference late game defeats at the hands of Rutgers, Central Florida, and Jacksonville, and some terrible conference losses, like getting swept by Tennessee, losing at home to South Carolina and getting bludgeoned by Georgia on the road.
Obviously, I like this one much better. In all honesty, Florida’s past three Elite Eight teams may have all had more natural talent, and may have been more explosive (Chandler Parsons, Bradley Beal, Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton), but this is a better team. This team knows how to win close games. This team is willing to go through a brick wall, or at least give it their best possible efforts.
This team has what it takes to win it all.