Gators pull away for win
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)
Florida coach Billy Donovan was looking for energy, and he found it from someone who didn't have a lot to give.
Dorian Finney-Smith, done with his suspension but battling a virus that kept him out of practice all week and caused him to lose 10 pounds, scored 17 points in 16 minutes to help the 11th-ranked Gators beat Arkansas-Little Rock 86-56 on Saturday.
It was quite a debut for Finney-Smith, the versatile 6-foot-8 transfer from Virginia Tech. He was a threat outside with 3-pointers and always around the basket for loose balls, which is exactly what Donovan preached after a lackluster opening half that ended in a tie at 27.
''I really didn't know what to expect,'' Donovan said. ''He hadn't picked up a ball since Monday. He really moved the basketball and made the extra pass. Because he can shoot it, put it on the floor and pass, he opens up a lot of things for our guys.''
Casey Prather led the Gators (2-1) with 27 points, eight of them during a 17-4 run midway through the second half.
Donovan was tired of watching a game with an excitement level that ranked right up there with paint drying. His Gators were moving the ball slowly, looking for openings in the post that weren't there. The Trojans (0-2) were walking the ball up the court.
He switched up some assignments and went to the press, and it paid off in a big way. UALR couldn't match the pace and had key turnovers that enabled Florida to turn the game into a rout. The Gators had a 25-12 rebounding edge in the second period.
''We got beat to the loose balls. We got beat on the glass,'' UALR coach Steve Shields said. ''We didn't handle their pressure the way we needed to, especially in the second half.''
Will Neighbour was a lone bright spot for the Trojans with 21 points and eight rebounds.
Florida was a better team with Finney-Smith on the floor. He sat out the opening two games for breaking team rules, and he wasn't expected to play Saturday because of the illness. Florida cleared him, and he lived up to the expectations for at least one game.
''I told him, `Coach, I can go, let me go.' I just want to play,'' Finney-Smith said. ''He knew I was feeling bad. He was trying to hold me. He was thinking about it. I was just ready to go. ... I was trying to keep my motor going.''
Finney-Smith also had nine rebounds while showing off his well-rounded game, though several of those came from missing short shots inside and grabbing the miss. He also was 3 for 4 from 3-point range.
Kasey Hill had 14 points, six assists and no turnovers. He was a key player in the Gators' big run. He started the outburst with a driving layup, and after Prather's putback for a 56-43 lead, Hill stole the inbounds pass and scored.
Patric Young added 10 points and eight rebounds for Florida, which was coming off a loss to No. 20 Wisconsin on Wednesday.
James White had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Trojans, who shot 36 percent from the field and had 18 turnovers.
Florida wound up shooting 52 percent, an amazing turnaround from the first half. The Trojans shot only 38 percent from the field and had nine turnovers in the early going. And the game was tied at the break, mainly because the Gators were just as bad.
Despite having seven steals and numerous chances on transition, Florida's only points from outside came on a Finney-Smith 3-pointer. That gave the Gators a 20-14 lead, but right when they looked as if they were ready to pull away, Neighbour kept the Trojans right there. The 6-10 senior from England scored on three straight possessions - a jumper, a 3-pointer and a three-point play on a driving layup along the baseline.
Neighbour scored on another 3 with 18 seconds left, and the Gators tied it on Hill's off-balance jumper just before halftime.
Florida looked like a different team in the second half.
''We were very aggressive,'' Prather said. ''Coach Donovan told us to give it all out, lay it on the line and just be as aggressive as we can. We just made it a point to come out here in the second half and get more rebounds.''