After sputtering throughout much of the non-conference basketball schedule, the Florida Gators came out firing on all cylinders in the second match-up with Butler in 37 days.
Florida opened the game Saturday at the O’Connell Center on a 21-0 run and didn’t let off the accelerator, downing the Bulldogs, 77-43, in what served as UF’s final tune-up before opening SEC play Jan. 5 against South Carolina. The teams played Nov. 23, with Butler winning 61-54 in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
Freshman guard Noah Locke finished with 12 points, continuing an impressive start to his collegiate career, and stretch forward Keith Stone added 12 points and six rebounds, as the Gators finished 2018 with a 5-1 record over the last six games.
“We played as well as this team has played, by far. Hopefully we play that well again this year,” UF coach Mike White said. “That’s the standard these guys set today. We have to continue to get better, of course, but, I thought we’d play well, and I know our guys were excited to play and I know we’ve improved, but I certainly didn’t see that score coming.”
The Gators once again had little trouble getting hot from the early going, but it was their ability to sustain the momentum that turned a rematch into a rout. The 34-point loss was Butler’s first 30-point loss in 187 games.
Florida would hit 14 of their first 19 shot attempts from the field, blocking six of Butler’s attempts in the process, and UF (8-4) consistently forced Butler into taking contested shots, despite the Bulldogs (9-4) winning the turnover battle until the final buzzer. And the Gators were sound on the glass — an issue White has lamented in the early going — in holding Butler to just 18 rebounds on the day while hauling in 46 boards of their own, including 14 on the offensive end.
“We work on a lot of little things now, like rebounding, loose balls. All the little things,” Locke said. “We pay a lot of attention to those things.”
White has frequently suggested the Gators struggle when it comes to playing with consistent energy, but that wasn’t a problem Saturday. The lead would only balloon as the contest raced on, and Florida would soon have a commanding 59-26 lead with more than 10 minutes to play.
“We hadn’t had a game like that, I don’t believe, where we got off to such a hot start offensively,” White said. “We’ve almost played a bit rattled offensively all year, and this is the most settled in that I’ve seen from this group.”
Much of the talk in the early going has centered around Florida senior Jalen Hudson and his struggles, but it is fellow senior KeVaughn Allen who has quietly come on as of late and emerged from a considerable dip in production. After an up-and-down stretch to open the season, Allen turned in 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting, giving him his seventh double-digit scoring performance over the previous nine contests.
“I just think he’s in a good place,” White said of Allen. “He’s playing more like a senior. He’s matured. He plays harder, more consistently defensively. Yeah, I’d like to see him be more aggressive, to be honest.”
The result was decisive with a minute to play, allowing both walk-ons — Andrew Fava and Mak Krause — an opportunity to play. They made the most of it, too, as each scored in the waning seconds, much to the delight of the Florida faithful.
Florida will get another week away from the hardwood before commencing conference play against Frank Martin’s struggling South Carolina Gamecocks (4-7).