GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When it comes to playing defense, the phrase "It’s not good enough" — normally shouted in tones that cannot be mistaken for anything other than uncompromising — has echoed throughout the men’s side of the Florida basketball practice facility, courtesy of Coach Billy Donovan, countless times the past month.
If the Gators did not understand why, they do now.
Miami point guard Angel Rodriguez played the role of sniper Monday night, bombing in 22 of his 24 points in the second half, including a dagger 3-point with 16 seconds left, to rally the Hurricanes from 15 down to a 69-67 head-slapping upset of eighth-ranked UF, snapping its school-record home winning streak at 33 in a row.
Rodriguez, the transfer from Kansas State, single-handedly led the comeback, at one point scoring nine straight on a trio of 3s, and finished 6-for-9 from the floor after intermission, including 5-for-7 from deep and another 5-for-7 from the free-throw line. He also had three steals.
"As painful as it is for me — not that I want to see our guys lose — but they need to learn what really goes into winning," Donovan said after his team’s first defeat at the O’Dome since March 4, 2012 against eventual national champion Kentucky. "As hard as that is to say, they just don’t have a clue."
This one should go a long ways toward getting the message across, after the Hurricanes (2-0) shot 65.2 percent after intermission and 70 percent (7-for-10) from the 3-point line.
UF got 21 points on 8-for-9 shooting from junior guard Eli Carter (above right), plus another 17 points and seven rebounds from senior center Jon Horford. But with starting power forward Dorian Finney-Smith sidelined with two hairline fractures in his left hand, the Gators (1-1) were limited to a rotation of six scholarship players and two walk-ons, with Jacob Kurtz becoming the first walk-on to start for Donovan in 17 years. He finished with six points, a team-best eight rebounds and two assists.
But this game was about Rodriguez and what he did to UF sophomore point Kasey Hill, especially with the game on the line. Think about this: with less than seven minutes to play, Florida led 54-45 and Rodriguez had five minutes.
Get the picture?
"I haven’t been in a zone like that since I was in high school," Rodriguez said.
It was fast, it was furious and lasted until the final horn.
Rodriguez, who signed with K-State out of Miami Krop High and actually had a hand (4 points, 3 assists) in UF’s loss to the Wildcats at Kansas City two Decembers ago, hit three 3s in less than two minutes. Florida, meanwhile, could not hit a field goal.
"We had a couple possessions, three or four in a row, where we made some horrendous decisions," Donovan said.
After freshman forward Devin Robinson made one of two free throws, backup UM forward Omar Sherman hit another three to trim UF’s lead to 55-54. Four straight free throws from Tonye Jekiri (8 points, 8 rebounds) gave Miami its first lead of the game, 58-55, but Horford hit a 3 from the corner to tie the game and jack up the O’Dome crowd.
Until Rodriguez baited Hill into a foul while shooting from behind the 3-point line. Yes, he made all three free throws.
Five straight points from Horford, however, had the Gators back on top, 63-61, with less than two minutes to play, yet there was Rodriguez raining yet another 3.
Two more times, UF scratched to take the lead. After the first, Rodriguez tied it the a free throw; the second time — after he missed and the Hurricanes gathered the offensive rebound and called timeout — he stationed at the top of the key and rocked Hill back and forth until he saw an opening.
"The guy hit some really tough shots," Horford said. "But it doesn’t matter. We have to find a way to stop him."
UF had a chance to take the lead, but Carter was called for a charging foul driving to the basket. After Rodriguez made the second of two free throws with 2.3 seconds left, the Gators managed to get a shot off, but Michael Frazier’s desperation 20-footer hit off the back of the rim.
The Hurricanes commenced celebrating the first opponent’s win on the O’Dome floor in 973 days.
"I thought the environment was tremendous," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. "I love the college atmosphere and the enthusiasm from the crowd. It gets you excited. For your freshmen, you don’t know how they will respond, on TV, on the road, the hostile environment, so I was very proud how our team handled everything."
The best thing they did was get the ball to Rodriguez, who in turn gave Hill (2 points on 1-for-9 shooting, 8 assists) a bevy of images that not only will show up on tape, but maybe in his nightmares.
"He struggled, really struggled," Donovan said of Hill. "I thought he did some good things moving and passing the basketball, but he’s got to finish at the basket better. You see 1 for 9, and and there weren’t a lot of deep, long-range shots. He traveled one time in the open floor on the break. He missed several layups. He has to finish better and make some mid-range shots. And I thought he got a little loose with Rodriguez defensively."
The whole team did. The Gators, to be sure, will hear about it.