Don't even think about perfect league record
Published: Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 4:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 6:06 p.m.
Don't do it.
And don't even think about it.
Florida started the second half of its SEC season Saturday with another hard-fought win over a team letting it all hang out. The Gators are now 10-0 in SEC play, but please don't send me any more emails or tweets about teams that have gone unbeaten in SEC play. I'm not even going to look it up.
Two reasons — 1. This team is 10-0 because it doesn't think about 18-0; and 2. With the difficult back end of the schedule, it's unlikely the Gators will go the rest of the way unscathed.
In fact, the only thing that matters for this team over the last eight games is that coach Billy Donovan's team wins enough games to win the SEC title. That's it.
So don't even think it.
“We've learned just to take care of business,” said senior Will Yeguete. “Stay in the moment.”
Win No. 10 in the conference and No. 21 overall came differently than so many of the others in the O'Connell Center. Florida gave up 36 first-half points, the most at home this season and second-most for a first half all year, trailed by seven late in the first half and the 69 points UF allowed must have felt like 100.
“I thought we were bad (on defense) the whole game,” Donovan said.
But offense saved the day, as UF shot 62 percent for the game and had its usual and difficult-to-explain turnaround from beyond the arc in the second half (from 1-of-5 to 5-of-12).
“We understand what goes into winning every game,” said senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, again as tough as boiled meat down the stretch.
It was the 15th straight win for Florida and the fourth straight loss for Anthony Grant's team. Alabama's motto for the season should be, “We're just good enough to scare you.”
And the Tide did with a 24-7 run in the first half. But Florida took away the 3-point shot in the second half and cranked up the crowd, and it was yet another home-court celebration.
But don't even whisper about it.
We remember the team up in Lexington that talked in the preseason about going undefeated, not just for the SEC but for the entire season. Even had T-shirts made. You can get them for a couple of cans of soup today.
That's exactly the kind of absurd distraction that teams don't need in any sport, let alone one with multiple games a week in hostile environments. For this Florida team that has had its share of man-made distractions (injuries, suspensions, Chris Walker), it doesn't need any artificial ones.
“When you get the league schedule, you don't know how it's going to shake out,” Donovan said. “Five of our last eight are on the road. I'm not overly joyous that we're 10-0. It will shake out in the end.
“I talk about distractions a lot. I don't spend time looking at what people are saying about us nationally. I just talk to these guys about what matters and what doesn't matter. We're 21-2, that's just a record of what's happened in the past. What have we learned from the past?”
On Saturday, they learned that a hot shooter can keep a team in a game, but he has to have help. Trevor Releford scored 25 points, but nobody else for Alabama was in double figures. By contrast, all five Florida starters were in double figures.
Balance beats bluster.
But bluster can make it interesting.
Maybe it was the early tipoff, but this wasn't the Florida team that some are penciling into their early bracket Final Fours. Too many reaching fouls turned into a parade to the free-throw line for the Tide, who scored 15 of their last 23 points with the clock stopped.
But this Florida team will file and smile. It wasn't the Gators' best game, but they had enough strong spurts and created enough turnovers (16) to secure another victory.
The winning streak is impressive, but it is now that it will be tested.
“It's a pretty big week,” Yeguete said. “We'll be tested. But we're just taking each game as it comes.”
At Tennessee. At Kentucky.
Or rather, at Tennessee.
One at a time. Remember?
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.