GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida probably will have a few more games like this — even in the Southeastern Conference.
Mike Rosario scored 19 points, Erik Murphy added 11 despite playing with a broken rib and the No. 11 Gators opened league play with a 77-44 victory over short-handed Georgia on Wednesday night.
It could be a sign of things to come since Florida is one of the SEC’s elite teams playing in a relatively weak conference.
“We’re playing for something now,” Rosario said. “As coach tells us, our nonconference schedule was just to prepare for the situations that are coming up now. Coach stressed it more than anything to us: Now we’re playing for an SEC championship, so that’s what we’re really focusing on as a team and trying to be consistent ball team every day.”
The Gators improved to 12-5 in league openers under Donovan, including 7-0 at home. They also extended their recent dominance against the Bulldogs, winning for the 16th time in the last 19 meetings.
The latest one was no big surprise since the Gators (11-2) have played well most of the season, while Georgia (6-8) has struggled against just about everyone on its schedule.
“Florida just overwhelmed us,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We started out in a hole, and the environment overwhelmed a couple of our kids and so did Florida’s defense.”
The Bulldogs, though, had won four in a row after losing six of seven. Georgia shot 39 percent, turned the ball over 19 times and fell to 0-3 against ranked teams this season.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the team’s lone bright spot this season, led the Bulldogs with 11 points. Junior forward Donte’ Williams and freshman guard Kenny Gaines did not make the trip because they were suspended for violating team rules.
“We were a little short,” Fox said.
The Gators were thin, too. But it hardly showed.
Rosario was 6-of-10 shooting and perfect from the free-throw line.
Murphy’s night was even more impressive.
Coach Billy Donovan called Murphy “doubtful” Monday because a broken rib under his right arm. Murphy went through shoot-around Wednesday and felt good enough to play with a protective pad around his rib cage. He made 3 of 6 shots from 3-point range.
“I don’t really think about it,” Murphy said. “I wasn’t thinking that. I wasn’t trying to avoid contact. I don’t think it’s going to hinder me at all.”
Patric Young chipped in 11 points for the Gators, who shot 52.7 percent from the field and made 12 of 26 shots from 3-point range.
Casey Prather, who started in place of Murphy, scored the first three baskets of the game. He finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
Will Yeguete had been expected to start over Prather, but the power forward has tendinitis in his right knee and was scratched from the starting lineup. He played sparingly, was scoreless and kept ice on his knee while on the bench.
The injuries were the latest setback for Donovan’s team.
“We’ve got to get healthy,” Donovan said.
Point guard Scottie Wilbekin was suspended to start the season and has played lately with a broken finger on his shooting hand. Reserve forward Cody Prather left the team a few days before the season opener. Prather missed several games because of multiple concussions. Murphy missed practice time because of migraine headaches. Young was benched for a lack of effort in practice.
Donovan probably could have rested several of them against Georgia.
The Gators opened up a double-digit lead in the first 6 minutes, extended it to 24-9 on Rosario’s floater in the lane and really pulled away after halftime.
Florida hit five consecutive 3s to turn a big lead into a laugher. Wilbekin got the run started, hitting one from just outside the top of the key. Michael Frazier II, Rosario and Murphy followed his lead, with Frazier hitting two. The flurry of outside shots made it 53-26 with 12:05 remaining.
It was 70-36 after Rosario’s third trey — the 11th of the night for Florida.
The Gators coasted from there, getting bench players in for the final few minutes.
“I thought we were really balanced,” Donovan said, pointing to 17 assists and seven turnovers. “We’re playing the right way.”