UF defense leads to offensive show
Published: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 1:55 a.m.
You look at the 95 points and you think offense.
You look at the 65-percent shooting and you think offense.
You look at the 21 assists and you think offense.
Offense is why Florida beat Tennessee on Saturday by such a wide margin. But offense isn't why Florida beat Tennessee.
The Gators won with defense. Suffocating, intimidating defense. Smart and energized at the same time. It wasn't just the press but the half-court defense as well. Maybe more.
Until foul trouble forced the Gators to go to a zone, the press didn't stop when Tennessee got the ball past mid-court. It just got tougher.
"For a full 40 minutes, was it the best half-court defense we've played since I've been here?" David Lee said, repeating the question. "Most definitely."
On a day when even the most ridiculous shots went in, Florida could have won if they had not. From the opening tip, they were inside the jerseys of their opponents. The press resulted in turnovers, the half-court defense in missed shots.
"When they got the ball past half-court," Lee said, "the pressure didn't stop."
Scooter McFadgon, who lit Georgia for 31 points on Wednesday, made three baskets. Point guard C.J. Watson, with the best assist-to-turnover numbers in the league, threw the ball away six times.
"That's what their defense forced me to do," Watson said.
Watson and McFadgon must have seen white jerseys and flailing arms in their sleep Saturday night.
Tennessee had 17 shots that went in. And with the Gators alternating threes with slams, it got ugly.
"When you get to the first TV timeout and your defender has his hands on his knees," said guard Anthony Roberson, "you know you've got him."
The 20 Volunteer turnovers led to 32 Florida points, practically the margin of victory. It was thorough and frenetic throughout, with the Gators never letting up even when the game was in hand, regardless of who was in the game.
In the last 10 minutes, Tennessee made as many baskets as Stick Man. And he didn't have any turnovers.
The Gators took a team that likes to score in transition and made transition impossible. When Florida trapped in the half-court, the Vols looked like they were hoping to just get out of trouble rather than trying to score.
"You want them back on their heels," said guard Matt Walsh. "And a guy like Watson, as good as he is, you just want to wear him down where there's nothing he can do."
This is the message Billy Donovan has been trying to get across to his team, his work in progress. Take it to them and they will wilt. We saw it against Florida State a week ago, but that message seemed to be lost at South Carolina where Florida escaped with a nail-biting win.
More than anything, what this team needs to do now is transfer that intensity, the passion for defense, to the road. It's one thing to feed off the energy of a home crowd, another to do it when hardly anybody in the gym wants you to do well.
But on Saturday, the crowd and the Florida defense sucked the life out of Tennessee. Like a bunch of wild animals, the Gators attacked on both defense and offense.
"Our defense enabled us to get out and do what our guys do well," Donovan said. "Our defense ignited our offense."
The best thing about it for Florida was that the Gators never went into a stretch where they slacked off. When the offense went stagnant for a few minutes, it didn't matter.
That's why the run that you kept waiting for by the Vols never materialized. The closest they got in the second half was 17 points, which was followed by three straight turnovers.
"It was great," said Roberson. "Our defense won out."
The final 38-point margin wasn't a mirage, even if you rarely see anything like that in an SEC game that doesn't involve Kentucky.
For a day anyway, Florida was that much better than Tennessee. And for a day, we were reminded about how good this team can be.
You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling 374-5053. You can hear Pat weekdays from 4-5 p.m. on WGGG 1230-AM in Gainesville and WMOP 900-AM in Ocala.
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