After his team claimed the opening tip-off, Auburn guard Mustapha Heron started driving toward the basket from the right side before stopping to make a pass through the paint. The ball never reached its target.
Instead, Florida forward Dontay Bassett intercepted the pass, knocking it into the hands of guard Chris Chiozza.
Bassett wasn’t done there. On the other end of the court, guard Jalen Hudson found Bassett on the inside, who broke free of his defender and dunked the ball uncontested.
The first two possessions of the game foreshadowed the kind of night Bassett would have in the Gators men’s basketball team’s 72-66 win over No. 12 Auburn on Saturday night. The redshirt freshman finished with a career-high 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting through 24 minutes in his first career start.
“This is a confidence boost for us going forward into the rest of the season,” Bassett said. “It was important for us to come back home and defend home court.”
Taking the place of center Kevarrius Hayes in the starting rotation, Bassett provided an inside presence on offense that Florida had been lacking all season.
After collecting an offensive rebound and passing the ball out to guard KeVaughn Allen with 13:43 left in the first half, Bassett got an open look inside and scored on a jump shot to give Florida a nine-point advantage. In the second half, he collected another pass from Allen with 9:41 left and attacked the basket, this time scoring on a layup and converting the foul shot to put the Gators ahead 53-46.
“That was huge,” Hudson said. “He’s our most physical guy. Hopefully he can keep it rolling.”
When he wasn’t scoring, Bassett provided the Gators with multiple second-chance opportunities. The forward finished with six rebounds, five of which came on the offensive glass.
Four of his five offensive rebounds led to Florida points.
Just over two minutes into the game, guard Egor Koulechov missed a jump shot from the left-side elbow. As the shot bounced off the rim, Bassett was in position and knocked the ball back to Koulechov, who nailed a three-pointer from the corner.
His next second-chance play came with 7:07 left in the game. After Hudson missed a jump shot, Bassett rushed to the basket, getting in range to tip the ball into the net to give the Gators a six-point lead.
“My team needed me to crash the boards tonight and that’s what I’m here to do,” he said. “I was doing the dirty work, like getting the rebounds and hustling on the floor for loose balls.”
Bassett also played well on the defensive end, stealing the ball twice and blocking a shot off the backboard early in the second half.
He also made some tough plays that don’t appear on the stat sheet.
While on a fast break in the first half, the only thing standing in the way of Auburn guard Malik Dunbar and the basket was Bassett. As Dunbar drove, Bassett stood firm and drew a charge, giving Florida some early momentum.
Coming off the best game of his young career, Bassett has made a strong case for earning more playing time this season.
UF coach Mike White took notice.
“It’s pretty simple,” White said. “He’s gotten a lot better throughout the year.”