Florida ices Missouri, claims SEC's top spot

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- To celebrate Florida coach Billy Donovan’s 400th victory at the school, Gators center Patric Young lured Donovan into a separate part of the locker room and doused him with a watercooler full of ice water.

Donovan was stunned.

"Basketball coaches don’t have that happen to them very often," he said several moments later. "And I tell you what: That was really, really, really cold. I mean, really cold."

But not as cold as what 10th-ranked Florida did to 17th-ranked Missouri on Saturday afternoon to give Donovan that milestone victory. The Gators dominated the Tigers in an 83-52 victory in front of 12,597 at the O’Connell Center in what was supposed to be a matchup of the top two teams in the SEC.

Florida held Missouri to a season-low 32.7 percent from the floor, forced 21 turnovers and took point guard Phil Pressey -- who was named the league’s preseason player of the year by the media -- completely out of the game. It was yet another stellar defensive performance from the Gators (14-2, 4-0 SEC), which have yet to allow an SEC opponent to score more than 52 points.

"A 30-point victory against one of the best teams in the SEC -- it was just a great game for us," said Young, who had nine points and eight rebounds. "I know nobody expected that. I’m sure a lot of teams thought they were going to come in here and they were going to upset us. I know they thought they were going to upset us, but we were prepared so well for this game and we really wanted it."

That was evident from the opening tip. Young tapped the ball toward point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who took a couple of dribbles and scored on a layup just four seconds into the game.

It got worse for Missouri (13-4, 2-2) from there. The Gators raced out to an 11-0 lead in the first 3:14, and the Tigers pulled to within single digits only once after that. Missouri committed two turnovers and went 0-for-5 from the field during that opening stretch.

UF led by as many as 22 in the first half, and Missouri never got closer than 16 in the second. The Gators scored 34 points off turnovers and outrebounded the Tigers, which entered the game as the nation’s top rebounding team (43.8 per game), 35-25.

Missouri was without leading scorer Laurence Bowers (16.8 ppg), who sat out his third game in a row with a sprained MCL in his right knee, but that doesn’t completely account for how poorly the Tigers played.

Pressey, who had been averaging 13.8 points and 9.8 assists in his previous six games, scored two points on 1 of 7 shooting. He had six assists and 10 turnovers and was never able to shake Wilbekin, who similarly shut down Texas A&M’s Elston Turner on Thursday in the Gators’ 68-47 win in College Station, Texas.

"He’s a great player," said Wilbekin, who had 13 points and tied his career high with 10 assists. "He’s got a lot of accolades and everything. Our whole team was focused on stopping him because he’s their primary facilitator on offense. I think we did a good job of focusing on him and also doing a good job of getting to the other players as well."

If no Bowers and an ineffective Pressey wasn’t bad enough for Missouri coach Frank Haith, he lost one of the only offensive threats he had when guard Keion Bell left the game with a sprained ankle with 13:18 to play. He had 14 points on 5 of 6 shooting. The result was the program’s worst loss since a 100-63 defeat at Kansas State on Feb. 16, 2008.

"Florida played tougher than us this game," Haith said. "They made all of the key hustle plays and outrebounded us on both sides of the court. We can’t win on the road if we don’t play tough.

"We got beat in all facets of the game today. Florida made all of the proper adjustments, decisions and plays throughout the course of the game."

The Gators are tied with unranked Ole Miss (15-2, 4-0) atop the league’s standings, but it’s clear they are the class of the SEC. Not that the players will make that claim.

"We’ve got 18 diamonds to pick up," Young said. "We’ve gotten four. We’re just moving on to the next one. We’re not making a statement. We’re just going to prepare for the next game. We’re going to get ready. Whoever it is, we’re going to match up and we’re going to do our job."