Inside shots just don't get past UF


Published: Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Antoine Bronner of hapless (and the word was invented for this team) Savannah State thought he had an open path to the basket Wednesday night. But as he let go of the ball from a few feet out, they pounced.
Joakim Noah and Al Horford each got a full paw on the floater, slamming it away. This Florida basketball team may force the NCAA to come up with a new statistic like the one in the NFL for sacks.
Half a block.
We've seen that happen before for these Gators, a pair of long arms connected to different bodies each getting a piece of a shot that never makes it to the iron. We've never seen anything quite like Wednesday night when Florida had 10 blocks by halftime.
Of course, we've never seen a team quite as bad as Savannah State, winners of all of one game in the last two years and that over something called Wilberforce (team motto: Let the Force be Wilber).
You could see this coming from all the way down I-75, an undersized team against one of the longest in the country. The block party was expected but it's not like this was a Florida team simply padding its blocked shot stats against little guys.
OK, maybe it was.
On the other hand, UF tied the O'Connell Center record with two more blocks six minutes into the second half and the game turned into a celebration of the walk-on spirit. Horford had six blocks in 16 minutes, Noah four in 15.
The Gators are well ahead of the pace set by the 1987-88 team, which averaged 4.8 blocks per game and as many controversies. That team was led by Dwayne Schintzius, the best shot blocker and one of the strangest dudes to ever play basketball at UF.
Schintzius recorded 90 of Florida's 168 blocks that year. Already this season, the Gators have 98.
"There are times when a guy takes it inside and you just know it's going to be blocked," said senior Adrian Moss. "I guess it's the whole, 'Let's challenge the shot blocker.' "
Moss will tell you his shot-blocking days are behind him, but he has chipped in four this season. The main objects of rejection are Noah (38) and Horford (33), who Moss called Wednesday night, "the two best in the nation."
It has gotten to the point where it's almost a surprise when an inside shot does go in instead of flying through the air the other way.
"It's a big part of our game," said Horford, who admitted this week he'd rather block a basketball than dunk one. "When the ball gets in, we want to get it out."
With the penchant for blocking shots also comes a concern. Leave your feet too much and a ball fake will cause a foul. Too many means too much time on the bench.
So Billy Donovan has cautioned his team of tall timber to be careful, not to be overzealous just because someone dares drive the lane.
"It's hard because we do have good shot-blocking potential and ability," Donovan said. "I've often told our guys that great shot-blockers are guys who react after the offense has reacted. They have to be careful.
"Length-wise up front, this is probably the best potential of shot-blocking that we've had. We don't talk about it much. If you hear a coach say, 'OK, we want to block shots,' the next thing you know you've got five guys flying through the air trying to block shots."
Still, the ability not only to send shots the other way but to make the opponent think it might happen is a big part of any team's defense. And it has been a big part of Florida's success this season.
The 13 games remaining in the regular season are all within the conference where offenses go to die. You're more likely to win 68-64 than 88-82 so every inside bucket is crucial.
And every one that doesn't make it to the bucket builds momentum and instills intimidation.
"It's human nature," said junior Chris Richard. "They try to protect themselves from being embarrassed."
It didn't work for Savannah State. You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. Dooley's columns appear Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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