Gainesville, FL- It began as the teams prepared for the national anthem ceremony, ninth ranked West Virginia stomped on the Gator logo at center court and began dancing in the middle of the Gators warmups, after a brief scuffle, everyone settled down. But from that point on everyone in the sold out crowd knew what kind of a game they were going to watch. Officials called a tight game with both teams getting to the bonus before ten minutes had passed in the first half. The Gators jumped to a quick double digit lead behind three point shooting from Dorian Finney-Smith and Kevaughn Allen, and they never looked back.
The Mountaineers played smart, they really did, they attacked a team that struggles to pass with a full court press, and they attacked a team that struggles to shoot deep shots with a zone defense. But the Gators came ready to fight and defend their home court, scoring 45 points by halftime by exploiting the full court press for transition points and lighting up the WVU zone defense for 12 three point shots. While the skill of WVU was obvious, the energy of the Gators powered by the crowd and pregame altercation proved to be just what coach Mike White’s squad needed to get their first win against a ranked opponent this season.
That brings us to another point, progress. Until this point, the Gators had met expectations, they lost to ranked teams, beat unranked teams, and even upset Ben Simmons’ Tigers, but they never took the next step, not until today. But it did not happen overnight either. At the beginning of the season, John Egbunu was not the starting center, he was not projected to be a rebounding machine and a post monster, but he is now. Kevaughn Allen was highly touted but nobody was sure he would be the Gators best young star and pure scoring guard. Everyone thought Kasey Hill was a lock at point guard, until he had struggles and Chris Chiozza emerged as a better shooter, passer and defensive player. Junior college transfer Justin Leon has also earned his new starting position and is extremely valuable. But nothing is more satisfying as the mid season growth of Dorian Finney-Smith into the team leader that the young Gators team desperately needed. Now the teams weaknesses are getting smaller and strengths are getting bigger. Will this team compete for a national championship? No, but they certainly proved they will be in the NCAA tournament in March and could certainly move past the first round.
This team is rising and Gator Nation could not be more proud of the work they have put in this season.
University of Florida