"Speed kills" is the Southeastern Conference's mantra in football, but Florida made it work for them on the basketball court Wednesday night too. With an enthusiasm befitting a conference showdown on their home court, the Gators jumped all over the tentative Badgers and cruised to a 74-56 win over Wisconsin at the O'Connell Center.
Wisconsin came into Gainesville hoping to see how it measured up defensively against a big-time opponent and how much its new point guard tandem had grown. The return was disappointing on both accounts.
Erik Murphy torched Wisconsin all night with Laettner-like perfection. He didn't miss. Literally. Murphy went a perfect 10-for-10 from the field, hitting both of his 3-point attempts, en route to 24 points. But particularly in the first half (when he scored 16 points), Murphy proved to be two steps quicker than Frank Kaminsky and even Jared Berggren. As a result, he put himself in a position to hit open shots all night long, not to mention grab offensive rebounds and force mismatches on defensive switches.
Murphy's performance opened up driving lanes for lightning-quick guards like Mike Rosario to impose their will. Ben Brust suffered through a rough first half trying to keep up with Rosario, who scored 11 of his 15 points before the break. The loss of Josh Gasser was evident early.
Offensively, the Badgers appeared nervous out of the chute, misfiring on all five 3-pointers to start the game. They missed their first eight shots overall and found themselves in a 9-0 hole before finally getting on the board more than five minutes in the contest.
Sam Dekker seemed to shake UW out of its cold spell by taking the ball towards the rim as soon as he checked into the game. The Badgers slowly battled back to within two points, 21-19, with 9:38 remaining in the first half. But Wisconsin would get no closer.
If the opening minutes felt like a punch in the mouth, by halftime, the Badgers probably felt more like a punching bag. The Gator attack was relentlessly efficient, scoring 1.30 points-per-possession despite turning the ball over 12 times in the first half. How is that possible? Shooting 75 percent (18-for-24) usually does the trick.
Florida led 43-31 at the half and star guard Kenny Boynton hadn't gotten revved up yet. Truth was, he never really did and it did not even matter.
Jay Bilas pretty much summed it up on the telecast by saying, "Florida had about as much as you can have playing against the Badgers."
On the flip side, Wisconsin did not have much to smile about. It speaks volumes that a team with a pretty clear eight-man rotation went 10-deep fairly early in the second half. Bo Ryan simply could not find the right combination of players until it was too late.
With Kaminsky's foot speed and below-the-rim game exposed by Murphy in the first half, Ryan started Mike Bruesewitz out of the locker room. But Bruesewitz' presence was a minor upgrade. Wisconsin continued to get dominated on the glass, losing the final rebounding count 40-21.
While it wouldn't be a surprise to see Bruesewitz regain his starting slot for the Cornell game Sunday, the real question is whether Dekker did enough to warrant consideration. The freshman was perhaps the lone bright spot for UW, tallying 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting with three rebounds, three assists, one steal and a turnover in 20 minutes.
Free throw shooting was again a scary deficiency for Wisconsin. One game after Ryan Evan's personal 1-for-8 performance, the virus morphed into a team-wide 7-for-14 display. Nothing came easy all night for the Badgers.
Defending the Gators proved to be difficult, too. Wisconsin switched often on screens, only to find guys like Murphy matched up with the likes of Brust or Traevon Jackson. And Florida seized those opportunities every time.
Even without Scottie Wilbekin, Florida's full-court pressure kept Wisconsin off-balance even if it did not create many turnovers. Length and quickness also kept Badger guards out of the paint in the halfcourt set and limited entry passes to Berggren, who had 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting. George Marshall was essentially a non-factor, scoring just three points in 29 minutes.
A steady 12-2 Florida run over six minutes in the second half took the life out of the Badgers as the Gator lead ballooned to as much as 22 points. To put the extent of the dominance in perspective, Wisconsin forced 20 turnovers and still lost by 18.
Marshall, Jackson and Brust combined for seven assists, four turnovers and just 17 points.
The young guards will no doubt learn from the experience. Hopefully they are fast learners with short memories.