No. 1 Florida shows no letup in blowout of LSU
Published: Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 5:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 12:10 a.m.
Florida did not cut down the nets shortly after its 79-61 rout of LSU.
With the Southeastern Conference regular-season title already secure, the No. 1 Gators (27-2, 16-0 SEC) insist bigger goals are out there. Though Florida coach Billy Donovan isn’t big on discussing seeding, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament remains a priority. So does becoming the first SEC team to go through a conference season perfect in 18 league games.
“The season is still going on,” Florida senior forward Casey Prather. “We’ve got another game against Kentucky on Saturday. So that’s our last home game, so we feel like we win there, we cut them down there.”
Prather said it was a team decision, but Donovan said he wouldn’t have let the Gators cut down the nets because he didn’t want his team to face any more distractions.
Florida wrapped up its third conference title in the past four years after Arkansas beat Kentucky in overtime on Thursday night. But Donovan recalled the 2006-07 season, when the Gators celebrated the SEC regular-season title with three games to go by cutting down the nets after a win over South Carolina. Florida went on to lose its next two games at LSU and at Tennessee before winning 10 in a row to clinch the second of back-to-back national titles.
“We did it, and looking back, I regret it,” Donovan said.
On Saturday, Florida didn’t play like a team content to rest on its accomplishments. The Gators made a season-high 13 3-pointers, including 9 of 14 in the first half to jump to a 41-25 halftime lead. From there, Florida extended its lead to as many as 29 points in the second half before emptying its bench in the closing minutes
“There were so many 3s available,” Donovan said, referring to LSU’s collapsing defense. “I was just happy our guys shot the ball with confidence. It was good to see the ball go into the basket for our guys.”
Sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith led four scorers in double figures with 16 points. Prather and sophomore guard Michael Frazier II added 14 points apiece, while senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin had 11 points and four assists.
“We shot great today,” Wilbekin said. “It’s not going to be like that every night so we still have to keep our focus defense. If we do both, shoot and play great defense, it’s going to be a great game for us.”
Florida pressed on and off throughout the half, wearing down LSU’s frontline. LSU freshman forward Jordan Mickey picked up two first-half fouls, while fellow freshman forward Jarell Martin had three fouls in the first half. Florida made five of its first seven 3-point attempts to build an early 30-14 lead.
On Friday, Donovan talked about his team’s inability to stretch first-half leads. But Florida maintained its consistency on the offensive end of the floor for most of the half. Florida shot 55.6 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 12 to 6.
“We want to win by as many points as we can,” Wilbekin said. “Something coach was stressing was wasted possessions, turnovers, possessions where we don’t get up a good shot. Just eliminating those.”
Ahead 41-25 at halftime, LSU cut UF’s lead to 43-30 in the second half on a 3-pointer from point guard Anthony Hickey. But Florida went back to the press, with positive results. Prather scored two straight baskets in transition, one off a Will Yeguete steal. Then, Yeguete scored on an inside layup to put Florida up 49-30 with 17:58 remaining.
The Gators finished with 17 points off turnovers and outscored LSU 34-22 in the paint. Center Johnny O’Bryant III led LSU (17-11, 8-8 SEC) with 18 points, but needed to work to do it. O’Bryant made 6 of 14 shot attempts.
“They’re an extremely good basketball team and they shot the lights out tonight,” LSU forward Jordan Mickey said. “They had 13 3s and were great on defense, so they had it going on both sides.”
Asked about the possibility of the Gators going 18-0 in the SEC, LSU coach Johnny Jones said: “It says a lot about their team. They sit here and they’ve already clinched the championship, and for the guys to come out and play as motivated and hard as they did tonight — the other motivation is for them to go undefeated in the league.”
Donovan shied away from 18-0 talk, instead focusing on something the Gators accomplished. By winning their 27th game, Florida posted their highest win total in the regular season in school history.
“There’s opportunities out there for them to chase things that hopefully will keep them motivated, focused, excited,” Donovan said.