Gators’ Hill, Robinson combo works in crunch time
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Kasey Hill keeps a green dot emblazoned on his wrist. It serves as something of a reminder not just of the tough times — and there have been a bunch — the Florida Gators have gone through this season, but of the inevitable ones to follow.
"It’s a green light," Hill explained. "It means ‘Go’ and reminds me to push through, to stay positive and move on to the next play."
Doing that has been a struggle for Hill and this team, but a with flip (for a look) and flick (for an assist) of that very wrist in crunch time Wednesday night, Florida rolled through what easily could have been another red-light loss and instead pulled out an emotional come-from-behind win.
Freshman forward Devin Robinson’s slam dunk with 2.1 seconds left on a traffic-jammed feed from Hill proved the go-ahead basket in the Gators’ eventual 50-47 victory over Vanderbilt at the O’Connell Center, an outcome that snapped a brutal four-game losing streak with UF’s two leading scorers out of the lineup.
With shooting guard Michael Frazier II still sidelined by a sprained ankle and forward Dorian Finney-Smith suspended for violation of team rules, Robinson replaced the former and scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds, while junior Alex Murphy replaced the later and equaled his career-high of 11 points.
But it was the circumstances down the stretch — specifically, how the Gators (13-13, 6-7) — responded that was the most encouraging for a team coming off back-to-back one-point losses and staring down a potential seventh defeat in nine games that went down to the final possession.
"We just weren’t going to have that again," said freshman guard Chris Chiozza, whose free throws with 1.2 seconds left capped the night’s scoring and a nice 8-point, 6-rebound, 2-assist effort him. "We stuck together."
The two teams took completely different paths to the final minute, yet ended up in the same place; in another Florida barnburner.
The Gators shot 28 percent in the first half and after taking a seven-point lead went the final eight-plus minutes of the period without scoring to trail by six at the break. Not to be outdone, the Commodores (14-12, 4-9), the top field-goal and 3-point shooting team in the Southeastern Conference coming in, shot 27.6 percent from the floor, went just 1-for-7 from distance and had an eight-minute drought of their own after intermission to fall back down by seven.
"It felt like we were swimming upstream all night," Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said.
But then some things starting flowing their way, thanks to a late 10-2 run.
Twice, the Commodores took a one-point leads in the final 1:25, the first time on a regular 3-point play from James Siakam (9 points, 6 rebounds), then again when freshman guard Riley LaChance (17 points) answered a bucket from Hill by driving through the UF defense for a layup and 47-46 lead with 44 seconds left.
Admittedly, the Gators had that "here we go again" thing going on their bench.
"Of course, but the game wasn’t over, so you have to get rid of that quick," Murphy said. "The last couple minutes, it went back and forth. We fought and we battled."
Out of a timeout, Hill aggressively attacked the basket and drew a foul. A 62-percent free-throw shooter who has missed some big ones this season, Hill stepped to the line, his team down just a point, for a big pair and 28.3 seconds to play.
He missed the first.
Then the second.
Vanderbilt grabbed the rebound and UF fouled guard Matthew Fisher-Davis (7 points, 7 rebounds) to send him into the line for a one-and-one with 19.7 seconds to play.
Hill trudged to the huddle.
"I could see Kasey fighting it. His body language was not good," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I watched him. He tried to gather and regroup himself."
As he listened to the coach barking orders from the sidelines, as his teammates encouraged him to move on to the next play, as everyone reminded one another that the game was not over, Hill looked at that green dot on his wrist and fought the urge to feel sorry for himself.
"It’s something I’ve been working on," he said. "It’s not easy."
But guess what? Fisher-Davis bounced his free throw and the Gators rebounded. Into the halfcourt they went, with Robinson misfiring an open corner-3 inside 10 seconds. The ball caromed high off the iron and toward the opposite baseline, where Murphy and Siakam vying for it, with Siakam tipping it out of bounds with 7.5 seconds left.
Florida had no timeouts, but Donovan drew up a quick play while officials reviewed the Siakam-Murphy play. The ball was inbounded to Hill, who circled into the lane, drew a pair of defenders his way, then dropped off a beautiful feed to Robinson who was crashing the baseline from the left corner.
Robinson skied and crammed the ball over Fisher-Davis for the 48-47 lead.
"I was actually going for the rebound in case he shot it," Robinson said. "I was in the right place at the right, so I might as well finish it."
Vanderbilt called a timeout, then passed the ball to halfcourt and called another one with 1.7 left to give itself a better chance at lob toward the Florida basket. That pass went out of bounds.
The Commodores fouled Chiozza on a dead-ball play and his two free throws stopped the orange-and-blue bleeding at four games, the program’s longest losing streak since the 2007-08 season.
"I was proud," Donovan said.
That his team persevered with Frazier still hurting, Finney-Smith in hot water and the team’s top remaining, guard Eli Carter, going 2-for-9 from the floor and 0-for-5 from the arc, was a nice source of that pride. This victory was scratched out and manufactured through teamwork and desire.
But winning despite shooting 36 percent from the floor, 23.5 from the 3-point line and an ungodly 10-for-20 from the free-throw reflected a pretty poor offensive performance by the opponent. Vandy’s 47 points was a season-low.
Then again, Florida’s 50 was a season low.
"Offensively, it’s just a struggle," Donovan said. "An absolute struggle."
It may not get a whole lot better anytime soon, with Frazier expected out maybe through the month and Finney-Smith definitely out for Saturday’s game at LSU (and possibly beyond).
Maybe the rest of the Gators can take a cue from Hill.
"We went on the next play," he said. "We stayed together as a team."
Green dots for everyone.