Scoring is nice, but SEC play is a grind


Florida guard Bradley Beal, left, knocks the ball away from Mississippi State guard Brian Bryant during the second half at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012, in Gainesville, Fla. The Gators defeated the Bulldogs 69-57.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 5:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 5:20 p.m.

I always kind of chuckle when the TV guys start talking about Florida as if if it's all about the Gator offense. Certainly, Florida has a lot of weapons and can hurt you in many different ways.

But when they start talking about Florida's scoring average for the season, I look away this time of the year.

Because it's irrelevant.

Once you get into conference play, everything changes. And Saturday's game against Mississippi State was the perfect example.

With some exceptions, you don't fly through SEC games. You grind them out.

There is a familiarity when you get into league play, not only with the players but with the coaches.

Florida is averaging 81 points a game this season.

On Saturday, the Gators scored exactly their average in conference games — 69 points. And that was more than enough.

“SEC play is different,” said center Patric Young. “To be honest, I was a little nervous going into this game. We don't have a good history with these early games. But I think we played a complete, good game.”

More than anything, they were grinders for 32 minutes, then exploded for four. They scored 11 straight points during that stretch. Ball game.

The grind is what you expect in this league, especially when two top 20 teams get together. You're not going to run away and score 85 against a rugged team like Mississippi State.

You battle and claw and scratch and chase down loose balls. You defend like someone is trying to break into your house.

“It was a grind-it-out game,” said Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury. “That score at the end, it wasn't like that for 35 minutes.”

Usually isn't. Look at it this way — Florida completed the Magnolia Sweep this week averaging 66.5 points in the two games, and it was only that high because Erving Walker threw in a meaningless 3-pointer with 10 seconds left.

You can point to the shots that were made or the assist-to-turnover ratio (15-5 Saturday). You can point — as Stansbury did — to the improved play of Erik Murphy (14 points).

But Florida has won these two very important games because of the way it has defended in the second half. The two Mississippi teams shot 34 percent in the two second halves. That's how you grind it out. You force tough shots. You take charges (four against Mississippi State).

You overcome Kenny Boynton scoring only two points because Boynton never let it get to him.

“I told Kenny after the game I was really proud of him,” Billy Donovan said. “A couple of years ago, he'd be upset. I'm trying to get our guys to understand that every game presents a different set of challenges.”

So you get over it. You get over early misses. You deal with the fact that you don't make a free throw until 1:18 is left in the game. You adjust to the physicality of Renardo Sidney on the fly and you turn to someone else for offense.

In this case it was the freshman Bradley Beal, who is wiser than his years because he's getting a crash course in SEC basketball.

“It's different, that's for sure,” Beal said.

He scored 19 against Mississippi State, and Florida found a way again. Out-rebounded badly for the second game in a row? Force 14 turnovers.

“Florida's really good,” Stansbury said. “That's why they are where they are.”

They are here, at 17-4 and 5-1 in the SEC.

And they keep finding different ways to get where they want to go.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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