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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The locker room said it all.

In stark contrast to the grim and downtrodden scenes of late, UF was in party mode after Friday's 82-54 thrashing of Creighton in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.

And why not? After crushing their second consecutive opponent, the Gators proved they might belong in a different bracket.

"I would rather be who we are today than playing in the NCAA Tournament as who we were a week ago," guard Jai Lucas said.

Lucas is all smiles as he unlaces his sneakers. Forward Chandler Parsons is yelling at Adam Allen to put his shirt back on, and walk-on Hudson Fricke, who saw action in the final minutes, is racing to find some clothes.

In the front of the locker room, Alex Tyus and Marreese Speights are having a light argument.

"Hey Tyus," Speights said. "Do you think this was the best game of the season?"

"Maybe," Tyus responds. "What about Vanderbilt though?"

"No, in that game, we made a lot of lucky shots," Speights said. "This was it."

Tyus agrees, and on this night, it's hard to argue.

The Gators dominated from start to finish, scoring the first 8 points, which was one of UF's three 8-0 runs in the first half alone.

Creighton pulled within three at 15-12, but the Gators outscored the Blue Jays 24-7 for the rest of the half. UF led by 20 at the break and would lead by as many as 33 late in the second half.

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The game was never close. In the first half, Creighton shot just 20 percent from beyond the arc and 34.8 percent from the field.

The Gators connected on nearly 45 percent of their first-half shots.

"We just felt good," Speights said. "We're feeling real good right now."

The last person to enter the locker room is forward Nick Calathes.

Calathes sits down, takes what appears to be his first breath in minutes and starts to grin.

His phone is ringing off and on for the next five minutes.

With a stat line of 11 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists, Calathes has just made history. He has become only the second Gators player ever to record a triple-double, joining Corey Brewer's 2005 performance against Jacksonville.

He is the first freshman to achieve the feat.

"I kind of wished I didn't know," Calathes said in his typically humble fashion. "I would take a win over that every day."

Yet for Calathes, who on this night had both, his accomplishments speak volumes for just how far this team has come.

Ever since UF checked out against Alabama and limped out of the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, this team has turned the invisible corner that coaches dream about.

The Gators have won their first two games by a whopping 52 points.

Friday's 28-point margin was the third-largest postseason win in school history.

It's hard to determine what triggered the transformation.

It might be the shot of reality missing the NCAA Tournament provided.

It could be UF coach Billy Donovan's move to kick the team out of its practice facility, or it could just be a matter of time and finally coming into their own.

Regardless, the Gators are clicking on all cylinders.

"At this rate, I don't ever want to go back," Lucas said.

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