For real? A preseason question, Florida’s defense looks sharp in win

Florida Gators forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) reacts after he dunked against the William & Mary Tribe during the first half.

Kim Klement/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida players had just answered a bunch of post-game questions about the vastly improved defensive play of the Gators compared to what they put on a tape a week ago in an exhibition win against a Division II team.

UF assistant coach John Pelphrey was standing down the O’Connell Center hallway, talking to his family, when asked for an off-the-cuff comment on how the Gators guarded.

"Don’t be deceived," Pelphrey said. "We got a long way to go."

Good thing it was the first game of the season then.

Junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith suffered a sprained left wrist early on but returned to score 15 points, while junior guard Michael Frazier tossed in 14 and senior center Jon Horford dumped in 11 as the seventh-ranked Gators piled on William & Mary in the first half and finished off a 68-45 victory that ushered in the 2014-15 campaign in front of 10,861 Friday night at the O’Dome.

Finney-Smith went on to play 22 minutes and grab five rebounds, but the training staff took him for X-rays after the game to get definitive word on the injury.

"We want to be 100 percent sure with what we’re dealing with," UF coach Billy Donovan said.

He want on to say the same thing about his defense. The Gators (1-0), who eight days ago allowed undermanned Barry University to shoot nearly 41 percent after halftime and out-rebound them for the game, held the Tribe (0-1) to 31.6 percent shooting — including a miserable 2-for-22 from the 3-point line (9.1 percent) — and won the battle of the boards 39-31.

Opening night

But in echoing Pelphrey’s words of warning, Donovan looked at those numbers with some skepticism.

"You see ‘2-for-22’ from the 3-point line [and] that number is obviously really, really loud," Donovan said. "But I’m not so sure they didn’t get some really clean looks that just did not go down. I would like to see the percentage of those 22 shots where I sit there and say, ‘You know, we really defended this well and if it goes in we have to live with it.’ Or how many were like really wide open?"

He’ll know after reviewing the tape, but Donovan did give a shoutout to sophomore point guard Kasey Hill, who despite missing all three of his field-goal tries and finishing with just three assists did a stellar job defending William & Mary point guard and NBA prospect Marcus Thornton, the NCAA’s active scoring leader coming into the season with 1,519 points.

Thornton, who averaged 18.7 points on his was to first-team Colonial Athletic Conference honors, scored just 10 points, went 3-for-11 from the floor and 0-for-5 from distance, with just two assists and three turnovers, as Hill marked him all night.

"I was really proud of Kasey Hill," Donnon said. "I thought he was phenomenal."

As for everyone else, well, the fact the Tribe was able to attempt 22 long ones was something of a red flag.

"They got a lot of them up," Frazier said. "We like to try and take [3-point] attempts away. I think we might have disrupted them some. We may have been there [on the shooters], but were still late. We have to do a better job of taking those away."

What UF did a nice job of was taking William & Mary out of the game early.

Box score

Horford started the game with a 3-point shot, followed by another from Frazier, as the Gators never trailed.

A 6-0 run about five minutes in opened a 10-point lead, but it was a 15-0 blitz (with five different UF players scoring) that pushed the Gators in front 36-14 with just over three minutes to go in the opening half.

The intermission stat sheet showed the Tribe at 25.9 percent and 1-for-13 from 3, but a sloppy start to the second half — UF made just two of its first 11 shots out of the break — let the visitors close the margin to 18 until another spree, this one nine straight with Finney-Smith scored seven in a row, to open the margin back to 27.

"Mixed feelings," Horford said. "There were flashes of what we need to do on a consistent basis, but we know this is not [good] enough to be play at the highest level."

They’ll need to be much better Monday night when state foe Miami, a member of that much higher level, comes to town.

And even better after that.