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Friday, August 12, 2022

Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was the do-or-die atmosphere. Or perhaps it was just San Diego State.

Regardless, the Gators turned the first round of the National Invitational Tournament into a nostalgic blowout, crushing the overmatched Aztecs 73-49.

For the first time in ages, UF easily appeared to be the best team on the floor and seemed to play with a chip on its heavily damaged shoulders.

The team gathered before the game for a unique defensive drill.

The players shuffled from side to side and shouted at one another.

The act seemed to be a response to the Gators' decision to commit on both sides of the floor, something clearly evident in this game.

"Walt (Hodge) and our team, we wanted to do that just to get out heads focused on our defensive end," guard Nick Calathes said. "That helped get us more hyped and more energized."

UF held the Aztecs to just 49 points on 21-of-49 shooting.

UF coach Billy Donovan said afterward his decision to kick the team out of the practice facility seems to have made its mark.

"They've taken well to it," Donovan said. "I've seen a great few days of practice, and I'm proud of the way they came out and focused tonight."

The Gators came out strong, connecting on 45.2 percent from the field and making 5 of 9 from beyond the arc as they jumped to a 35-23 first-half lead.

UF doubled up the San Diego State on the boards, pulling down 22 to the Aztecs' 11.

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Calathes anchored the Gators' dominant period.

The freshman scored nearly a third of the team's total, tallying 10 points.

Werner added a solid 7 in the half to go along with two blocks and two steals.

The intensity of the opening period shared more similarities with an NBA contest than a rowdy college atmosphere.

Those in the first row behind the basket could hear the coaches shouting. Included in the banter was the constant lobbying of Aztecs coach Steve Fisher, who screamed, "Of all things to call, you call that?"

He said that same sentence three times.

At one point, Speights told an Aztecs player to come off the bench and help guard him.

The teams combined to play a stale brand of basketball, reflected by the relatively tame 5,188 fans in the stands.

To put that in perspective, 10,444 people showed up for UF's exhibition contest against Flagler.

The second half was much of the same.

The Gators were too talented and too athletic for the Aztecs.

San Diego State had difficulty mounting any consistent attack and allowed UF several shots each possession.

UF owned the glass and turned second-chance points into constant daggers.

The Gators went on five separate runs of 6-0 or better in the contest.

The Aztecs' tallest player - Chris Lamb - measures 6-foot-10 and played just nine minutes.

The Gators keyed on the mismatch inside and outscored the Aztecs 40-28 in the paint.

"Wins always feel good," Werner said.

For the Gators, the NIT victory may not measure up to their preseason hopes, but for most is still means something.

"We can still make history in Gainesville," Calathes said. "There's no NIT banner here."

UF will now ready for second-round action against Creighton on Friday at 9:30 p.m.

San Diego State 49

Player Min. Pts. Reb. Ast.

Amoroso, R. 33 19 7 0

White, B. 33 0 1 0

Gay, D.J. 30 5 2 1

Williams, R. 29 9 4 1

Thomas, M. 19 0 3 1

Wade, L. 30 11 2 7

Davis, K. 15 5 0 0

Lamb, C. 9 0 1 1

Johnson, J. 1 0 0 0

Pastorek, J. 1 0 0 0

UF 73

Player Min. Pts. Reb. Ast.

Calathes, N. 29 16 5 5

Lucas, J. 29 8 0 4

Speights, M. 28 18 6 1

Werner, D. 28 9 5 1

Hodge, W. 20 7 2 2

Parsons, C. 22 5 6 1

Tyus, A. 18 4 6 1

Allen, A. 15 3 2 1

Mitchell, J. 10 3 1 0

Fricke, H. 1 0 0 0

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