GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The defense that was Florida’s calling card the first 18 games of the season was back in vogue Tuesday night at the O’Connell Center.
In their 69-52 defeat of Kentucky, the seventh-ranked Gators held the Wildcats to their second-lowest point total of the season, limited the defending NCAA champs to just 42 percent from the floor and 33 from 3-point range, but above all else -- at least in the UF coaches’ eyes -- got their defensive efficiency rating (DER) back to an acceptable level.
Florida limited Kentucky to 0.83 points per possession, a number the Gators like to be around 0.80.
“We played soft, scared, uptight,” Kentucky guard Julius Mays said. “We let the pressure get to us.”
Much of it was pressure on the defensive end, where Patric Young was a force inside (10 rebounds, 4 blocked shots) and the Gators were terrific fighting through screens and closing out on the 3-point line.
“I thought we got better and did a better job,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “Our effort, our focus, our guys being connected on defense -- helping, rotating, understanding scouting -- they really did a much better job than the last couple games.”
Over their first 19 games, Florida held opponents to 53.1 points per game, but more importantly boasted a DER of 0.79. That later number is one the UF coaches hold dearest because it’s a more accurate gauge of their team’s possession-to-possession efficiency because, unlike points per game, it removes style of play from the equation.
It’s basically a measure against themselves.
The defensive “slippage” Donovan talked about in the three games leading up to Kentucky was apparent on the scoreboard, as Ole Miss (win), Arkansas (loss) and Mississippi State (win) combined to average 14 more points per game than the Gators had given up during the season.
And they also combined to average 1.07 points per possession against one of the nation’s best defenses, including a whopping 1.34 from the Razorbacks.
“We got away from our defense the last few games,” junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said afterward. “We got it back today.”
Florida’s players have Wednesday off, then return to work Thursday in anticipation of two-game road swing that will take the Gators (20-3, 10-1) to Auburn (9-14, 3-7) on Saturday and then to Missouri (17-6, 6-4), which is unbeaten in 14 home games, next Tuesday.
UF has a two-game cushion on Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference standings and a 2 1/2-game lead on Ole Miss and Alabama heading into Wednesday night's games.