The Florida Gators returned to the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight season looking to complete the quest to the Final Four. After consecutive elite eight defeats they looked to take the last step. The opening round opponent Northwestern State brought in the highest scoring offense in the tournament. Florida's highly ranked defense (3rd in the country) was put to the test early and after a half of adjustment, the Gators were able to flex their muscles.
I thought the difference in the first half was 2nd chance points. The Gators were able to win that 12-2 for an eight point lead. The Demons had an interesting substitution process with ten people in two groups rotating throughout the half. Florida did a nice job pounding the ball inside without settling for three pointers. The Gators took care of the ball only having four turnovers against a defense that forces 17 per game. The Gators worked the glass in their favor out rebounding the Demons 18-12.
The second half was a totally different story. Florida was more comfortable with what to expect and turned up the heat holding Northwestern St. to 19%. The key was transition defense and not allowing the amount of lay ups they gave up in the first half. The Gator bench rose to the occasion in the second half producing 13 points and outscoring the Northwestern St. bench by 11. Eric Murphy would end up leading the Gators with 18 points on 8-11 shooting and did a nice job getting in the paint and showing some post-up game.
The Good - Points in paint. Florida dominated the painted area by outscoring the Demons 42-22.
The Bad - Free Throws. Gators finished 14-23, 61%. This has been an Achilles heel for the Gators and in a close game could become a major issue.
– Billy Donovan talks to his team about upsets by telling them there is no extra points for being a higher seed, just be mature and be ready to play.
– Florida held Northwestern St. 34 points below their season average.
– Balanced scoring was a key with four players scoring in double figures. The Gators are 15-1 when at least four players score 10 or more points.
– Senior Kenny Boynton became the second player in Florida history to surpass 2,000 points in his career.
-The Gator players talked in the locker room about quickly putting this game behind them and moving on to the next opponent.
Next Up: Minnesota – The Golden Gophers routed Pac-12 regular season champions UCLA by 20 behind 19 assists and a 50% shooting night. Minnesota finished 8-10 in the Big Ten and came into the tournament as a #11 seed on a three game losing streak. Tubby Smith was the long time Kentucky coach who had many battles with Florida and Billy Donovan. Check back tomorrow for a full game preview.