Florida’s matchup against WVU center Derek Culver saw UF revive and exorcise demons it has been fighting all season.
Coming into a blockbuster matchup against the Mountaineers Saturday evening, UF looked much improved guarding the interior. It limited Tennessee to just 22 points in the paint and Vanderbilt to 30, while sophomore Omar Payne emerged as a second scoring option in the post.
But through the first 20 minutes in Morgantown, West Virginia, the Gators played out the same script that led to comprehensive road losses against Mississippi State and Alabama: over-sized front courts dominating points in the paint and manufacturing easy buckets.
Culver owned the paint in the opening stanza Sunday evening, scoring 21 first-half points on a perfect shooting outing. Culver even withstood the Hack-a-Shaq strategy UF desperately employed, shooting 9-11 at the foul line going into the locker room.
Mike White and his staff made use of the 15 minute intermission to craft an excellent scheme against the 6 feet, 11 inch Mountaineer, holding him to just seven more points and one field goal
UF did a lot right in the second half for force Culver into such poor form, but for Gators center Colin Castleton the biggest difference was effort and fortitude.
“We were being soft in the first half, didn’t play hard enough. Castleton said. “He got a bunch of easy buckets that he wasn’t supposed to, so kind of just honed in on that in the second half.
WVU wing players Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil combined for 22 points from the perimeter, each knocking down a pair of fairly open three pointers. White was critical of his team’s perimeter defense in the second half, but these looks often came from a focus on Culver.
Florida was much quicker to double in the post in the second half, often forcing the double-double machine to make awkward passes that stymied offensive possessions. As the gruelling tempo of Saturday’s game wore down both teams, UF found comfortable looks around the rim and at the line, while West Virginia’s perimeter shooters began clanking shot after shot.
McBride and McNeil missed their last two shots, while Castleton scored Florida’s last five points, getting to the line, finishing at the rim while falling victim to suspect officiating. UF’s ability to generate good looks at the rim and force WVU to move away from Culver and towards perimeter shooting helped the Gators outlast the Mountaineers in a massive road win.
After failing to meaningfully adjust to dominant interior performances from Alabama’s Keon Ellis and Mississippi State’s Tolu Smith, Florida proved its likely top-25 ranking by providing a great team defensive performance against one of the most effective centers in college basketball.
Contact Declan Walsh at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @declanaw