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Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Elite Defense Fuels Gators in Victory Over West Virginia

For the past decade, West Virginia has consistently produced one of the premier defensive units in all of college basketball. However, it was the Gators who showcased their defensive versatility on Tuesday night in a 66-56 victory over the Mountaineers.

Offensive Struggles

Both teams had a very difficult time scoring the ball in Madison Square Garden. KeVaughn Allen led the charge for the Gators with 19 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks. This was undoubtedly Allen’s best performance of the season.

His ability to score and handle the basketball has never been in question, but his unaggressive and unselfish nature turned into his biggest flaw. He was certainly aggressive against the Mountaineers, taking 13 shots and consistently breaking down the defense and attacking the rim.

Andrew Nembhard added seven points, six assists, four rebounds and two steals. Nembhard continues to be an elite facilitator at the college level. He is averaging 6.5 assists per game and has a top-tier assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.11.

Allen and Nembhard were the only consistent sources of offense for the Gators. The team shot 16-48 (33.3%) from the field and 6-21 (28.6%) from beyond the arc. Florida had the ability to blow the game open multiple times in the first half, but major struggles from the free-throw line (28-46 overall) allowed West Virginia to hang around.

As much as the Gators struggled offensively, the Mountaineers could not buy a basket on Tuesday night. They shot 19-64 (29.7%) from the field and 7-23 (30.4%) from three.

Chase Harler was the only Mountaineer in double-digits with 11 points. Sagaba Konate, who has averaged 14.8 points per game this season, struggled mightily with four points on 2-10 shooting and five turnovers.

The Mountaineers grabbed 16 offensive rebounds but could only capitalize with ten second-chance points. West Virginia lacked ball movement and could not adjust to the different defensive schemes that Mike White was deploying.

Gators Clamp Down Defensively

This lack of offense was a byproduct of the elite defense on display. The Gators limited the Mountaineers’ top four scorers (Esa Ahmad, Sagaba Konate, Lamont West and James Bolden) to 14 points on 6-35 (17.1%) shooting. Before this contest, these four had combined to average 58.7 points per game.

The Gators’ full-court press and extended 3-2 zone gave the Mountaineers a very difficult time. They committed 21 turnovers which led to 22 points for the Gators.

Ahmad, Konate and West are all 6’8″, but that did not stop the Gators from owning the interior defensively. They limited West Virginia to 18 points in the paint.

It is evident that the Gators’ identity is on the defensive side of the ball. Mike White has always made it clear that his main priority is defense, but he has never had the type of athletes to utilize different schemes. He finally has top-notch athletes to spearhead his defensive goals, and the results are certainly noticeable.

What’s Next?

The Gators will be hosting the 10th-ranked Michigan State Spartans on Saturday, December 8th at 12:00 p.m.

About Cobi Silverstein

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