Gators handcuff LSU with brilliant defensive effort
That Florida would score 81 points on LSU Wednesday night at the O-Dome should come as no surprise to anyone. The Gators hung 82 on the Tigers in Baton Rouge a month ago so it’s fairly obvious they don’t find anything LSU does defensively perplexing.
That the Gators (18-10, 10-5 SEC) were able to play defense with such intensity that LSU’s vaunted backcourt of Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart managed only 11 points, a full 18 below their combined average, spoke volumes. Stop Mays and Smart and LSU’s high-flying offense slows to a crawl.
As in 66 points of crawl.
“We needed that,” Florida coach Mike White said after the Gators manhandled the Tigers (19-9, 10-5 SEC, 81-66, and took a rather large step toward securing their fourth straight NCAA Tournament bid. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen Skylar Mays struggle. He’s that good of a player.”
Mays scored three points. He averages 16.4. He air-balled a three-pointer, bricked a dunk and missed two free throws. That’s how shaky he was against a Florida defensive effort that at times resembled an attacking school of piranhas. Smart wasn’t that much better. He managed eight and had only one assist.
This was the second straight game the Gators have locked in defensively against a high level offensive team. Although they lost to Kentucky last Saturday at Rupp, the Wildcats managed only 65 points and for the most part shot very poorly.
LSU went 6-23 from the three-point line, had eight turnovers that were turned into 14 Florida points and spent the better part of the game struggling to get off a decent shot.
“I thought our guards were pretty locked in [defensively],” White said. “I thought Scottie Lewis was really good defensively.”
Neither Mays nor Smart could drive on Lewis and up front, Keyontae Johnson and Kerry Blackshear Jr. kept the Tigers from getting second chance points (only seven for the entire game) and living at the foul line.
“Tonight, I thought we made improvement with foul discipline especially against a team that’s so good at getting to the foul line,” White said.
LSU managed only nine offensive rebounds and the Tigers shot only 12 free throws. Compare those numbers with what happened in Baton Rouge when LSU had 15 offensive rebounds and 31 free throws.
On the offensive end, this was Johnson’s night. He scored 19 on the Tigers in Baton Rouge. He was even better Wednesday night when he scored 25 points to go with 11 rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots. Johnson hit 11-15 of his shots overall and was 2-3 on three-pointers.
Lewis not only got the job done on the defensive end, but he was a superb 8-12 from the field, 2-3 from the three-point line and good for 18 points. He also had four assists and a blocked shot. Six of his 18 points came on spectacular alley-oop dunks.
After a quiet first half in which he was 1-5 shooting and scored only three points, Andrew Nembhard came on strong in the second half to finish the game with 17 points, four assists and no turnovers.
For the night, the Gators turned the ball over only five times. LSU got two points off the turnovers, a far cry from the 19 they got on UF miscues in Baton Rouge. The Gators shot 54.8% overall (34-62) and 42.9% (9-21) on three-pointers.
With the win, the Gators moved into a two-way tie for third in the SEC with LSU, a game behind second place Auburn (24-4, 11-4 SEC), and they assured themselves of a winning record in conference play. UF is pretty close to being a lock for the NCAA Tournament but with two or possibly three more regular season wins in the final three games, they could earn as high as a seven seed when the selection committee announces the field two weeks from Sunday.
SEC BASKETBALL Wednesday’s scores FLORIDA (18-10, 10-5 SEC) 81, LSU (19-9, 10-5 SEC) 66 South Carolina (17-11, 9-6 SEC) 94, Georgia (14-14, 4-11 SEC) 90, OT Arkansas (18-10, 6-9 SEC) 86, Tennessee (15-13, 7-8 SEC) 69 Missouri (14-14, 6-9 SEC) 61, Vanderbilt (9-19, 1-14 SEC) 52 Saturday’s games FLORIDA (18-10, 10-5 SEC) at Tennessee (15-13, 7-8 SEC), ESPN2 Texas A&M (14-13, 8-7 SEC) at LSU (19-9, 10-5 SEC), ESPN2
Vanderbilt (9-19, 1-14 SEC) at Ole Miss (13-15, 4-11 SEC), SEC Network Mississippi State (18-10, 9-6 SEC) at Missouri (14-14, 6-9 SEC), SEC Network #15 Auburn (24-4, 11-4 SEC) at #8 Kentucky (23-5, 13-2 SEC), CBS Arkansas (18-10, 6-9 SEC) at Georgia (14-14, 4-11 SEC), SEC Network South Carolina (17-11, 9-6 SEC) at Alabama (15-13, 7-8 SEC), SEC Network
SOUNDING OFF ON A THURSDAY
If you haven’t already, you need to read Dan Wolken’s scathing commentary in USA Today about the dilemma the NCAA faces if Kansas wins the national championship in basketball. Kansas is certainly good enough to win it all, largely because the Jayhawks are right there with Baylor as the best defensive team in the country and they couple that with two of the country’s best three players in point guard Devon Dotson and ginormous center Udoka Azubuike. That Kansas is capable of cutting down the nets in April is indisputable. What is in dispute is should the Jayhawks even have a chance to win it all given all we know from the college basketball corruption trials?
To penalize the Jayhawks now, when all they’ve received is a Notice of Allegations, goes against the lengthy and tenuous process that allegedly metes out justice. There are procedures to follow and by NCAA rules, Kansas gets to dispute the allegations and then there is time set aside for both the NCAA and Kansas to figure out its trial strategy. Once that’s done, then a trial before the Committee on Infractions is set and after that, the committee gets to deliberate on just how much punishment it’s willing to deal out.
If you have followed the NCAA then you know fully well that a blueblood program can be guilty as hell only to receive a slap on the wrist. If you don’t believe that then check out what happened to North Carolina basketball when the NCAA had the Tar Heels dead to rights in the most extensive academic fraud scandal in history. Roy Williams and UNC men’s basketball got an excuse me, so sorry to trouble you from the NCAA while the women’s basketball got the book thrown at them.
Since Kansas, like North Carolina, is a blueblood, the NCAA has a real dilemma on its hands, only this one is far worse since the evidence used to bring about the Notice of Allegations was collected largely from evidence gathered and presented in a federal court trial. How do you dispute evidence gathered on a legal wiretap? And does the NCAA really and truly want to drop the hammer on a basketball program whose roots date back to James Naismith and whose prominent branches on the coaching tree include Phog Allen, Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith?
The hard reality is the NCAA really doesn’t have much choice but it can’t speed up its own procedures. Kansas won’t see the inside of an NCAA courtroom until late summer at the earliest and then once the Committee on Infractions hands out a sentence, Kansas can appeal. Meanwhile, Kansas can win the national championship this year and be well on the way toward another one next year.
GOOD QUOTES FOR THURSDAY
From Tom Van Haaren of ESPN, Nick Saban on the proposed one-time transfer rule that the NCAA is likely to approve starting with the 2020-21 academic year: “I don’t know how you manage a roster when this goes into effect. I can’t manage our roster now. Last year, we had eight seniors on our team. We had seven guys go out for the draft and three graduate transfers or guys that ended up transferring. So instead of having 18 seniors, you’ve got eight. You really have a three-year program at a place like this. I’m not necessarily saying it’s going to hurt our program because we’ll do a hell of a job recruiting players leaving other places to come here. But is that good for college football?”
From Stewart Mandel of The Athletic on why it’s highly unlikely Chip Kelly will get fired any time soon by the powers that be at UCLA: “… UCLA’s athletic department is in rough, rough shape right now. Per Jon Wilner, it accrued an $18.9 million deficit last year, might approach that again this year, and it’s due in large part to the buyouts it has to pay to fired coaches Jim Mora ($12.5 million) and Steve Alford ($3.9 million). The school really needs Kelly to kick things into gear in 2020, because it really, really can’t afford to go through another coaching change. Kelly would be owed $9 million, plus payouts to his assistants. And to get someone good, they would likely have to pay the next guy even more than the $3.5 million-a-year Kelly signed on for in 2017.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: The NCAA gave former Penn basketball coach Jerome Allen a 15-year show-cause penalty on Wednesday for accepting $250,000 from a dad to help train, recruit and ensure the kid gets into an Ivy League school. The school was given two-year’s probation and a $5,000 fine. On paper it looks like the NCAA socked it to Allen and the University of Pennsylvania. In reality, Allen is still coaching (he’s an NBA assistant) and Penn doesn’t give out basketball scholarships. As they say in Texas, all hat and no cattle … At the NFL Combine, Florida’s Jonathan Greenard measured 6-3-3/8, 263 pounds with an 81-2/8 wingspan. Jabari Zuniga measured 6-3-3/8, 264 pounds with a 79-inch wingspan.