Rote as the expression might be, Florida’s shellacking of Missouri on Saturday literally unfolded within four seconds of the opening tip in the O’Connell Center.
Scottie Wilbekin scooped up the tapped ball by forward Patric Young and darted by the Tigers’ Phil Pressey, a Wooden Award candidate, for a layup to commence an 83-52 rout and effectively hammer a notice on the door of the Southeastern Conference.
Bumping up two spots to No. 8 in the AP Poll on Monday, Florida’s status as the favorite for the regular-season title is no longer presumed and likely won’t face a suitable challenge until Ole Miss — the only other undefeated squad in SEC play — arrives in Gainesville on Feb. 2 for a critical tilt.
Yet Gators coach Billy Donovan said the start for Florida (14-2, 4-0) against then-No. 17 Missouri (13-4, 2-2), which included building a 15-2 lead in a mere 4:16, isn’t one he could foresee. In some ways, Donovan’s logic is reasonable. The Gators’ 77-44 thumping of Georgia in its conference opener was expected, as was a 74-52 victory at LSU — both of whom are pegged to finish near the bottom of the SEC.
“You’re always prepared for those games going down to the end because that’s generally what happens,” Donovan said.
But a 68-47 victory at Texas A&M, which was coming off an 11-point victory at Kentucky, might have raised eyebrows. Hammering Missouri, which was without leading scorer Laurence Bowers, certainly affirmed notions that the Gators are in peak form — beating foes by an average of 26.5 points in four SEC victories.
“You never go into a game expecting to win by double digits,” Donovan said. “Most games are tight.”
So was Donovan’s jaw left agape? No, but Florida’s assertive beginning was a break from his usual thinking.
“Am I surprised by it?” he said. “I’d say before the game you probably are because you’re preparing for it to be a 40-minute battle all the way through and come down to the final couple possessions.”
Vanderbilt finds a spark
Coach Kevin Stallings can still openly lament the Commodores’ lack of scoring, but temper it a smidge after Saturday’s 58-51 victory at South Carolina.
Especially after leading scorer Kedren Johnson, who averages 15.1 points, went scoreless in the second half and finished with three points — all of which came at the free-throw line.
“There’s significance in that we won,” Stallings said. “As I tell the team and everybody all the time, ‘Your challenge on game night is to find your five best players because you’re five best players aren’t always the ones on game night.’ ”
Junior guard Kyle Fuller provided 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting to fill the void, keying a 25-point performance from the Commodores’ bench.
“Kedren is our best player, but he was not one of our five best players Saturday,” Stallings said. “Our challenge was to find who that group was, and I think we did.”
Familiar trip for Martin
Gamecocks coach Frank Martin’s latest SEC roadtrip will require scant navigation.
South Carolina (11-6, 1-3) visits Missouri on Wednesday, taking the floor at Mizzou Arena — a venue where Martin went 1-4 during his tenure at Kansas State.
“That’s an arena I’m familiar with, and a great, great home environment,” Martin said. “And exposing our team to those kinds of teams at Missouri and that atmosphere prepares your guys to get better.”
Martin also gets another bit of Big 12 déjà vu when Arkansas (11-6, 2-2) comes to Colonial Life Arena on Saturday in a matchup with Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson. The pair faced each other 10 times when Anderson coached Missouri, with Martin holding a 6-4 edge.
“Playing against Mike’s team is not fun,” Martin said. “It is relentless. When you’re done after 40 minutes, whether you’re coaching and watching or playing, you’re exhausted because of the energy and the toughness.”
Georgia gets some help
For the better part of two weeks, Georgia coach Mark Fox bemoaned the lack of a second scoring option for the Bulldogs to ease pressure on sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Fox aimed for the aid to come from his front line, and on Saturday junior forward Donte Williams fit the request in a 67-58 victory over LSU.
Williams scored 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and added five rebounds. Caldwell-Pope still finished with 22 points, but Fox was adequately sated in seeing Williams provide assistance.
“He scored the ball, he rebounded the ball, he was good defensively, he made his free throws, he avoided foul trouble,” Fox said. “It was a performance that we were pleased with and one we’d like to see more of.”
No word on Kentucky frosh
The Wildcats throttled Auburn 75-53 on Saturday but exacted the beating without the assistance of freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein.
Cauley-Stein, who is averaging 7.6 points and 5.8 rebounds, stayed in Lexington for what the program termed a “minor procedure” on his knee. On Monday, coach John Calipari was largely mum on Cauley-Stein’s prospects for seeing the floor when Kentucky (12-5, 3-1) treks to Alabama (12-5, 3-1) on Tuesday.
“If he doesn’t think he can help us, we’ll probably leave him home,” Calipari said. “But we haven’t even practiced yet, so we don’t know.”
More bad news for Missouri
Moods around Columbia were already grim after the Tigers were thrashed at Florida by 31 points without Bowers, who is expected to miss two more games with a sprained right medial collateral ligament.
But on Monday, a CBS Sports report indicated coach Frank Haith is expected to be charged with unethical conduct and failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance stemming from his ties to the NCAA investigation of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro providing improper benefits to Hurricanes football and basketball players.
The report said Haith, who is in his second season at Missouri, could be issued a multiple-year show-cause penalty. A source told the outlet that the NCAA could not prove Shapiro’s allegation that Haith or his staff paid $10,000 to a family member of former player DaQuan Jones.
He would be charged, though, because investigators did not believe his story that payments to assistant coaches did not go to repay Shapiro, according to the report.
A notice of allegations is expected to be released Tuesday. A show-cause penalty means any penalties assessed at Miami could follow Haith to Missouri.