Florida blew a lead at home against Kentucky to start the month, but the Gators returned the favor at Rupp Arena Wednesday night, beating the Wildcats, 94-91, in overtime.
It was Florida’s first Quadrant 1 win of the season and hopefully a sign of things to come as Florida continues to grow under head coach Todd Golden. With 11 games left to play in the regular season, the Gators still have a chance to climb the SEC ladder.
Golden spoke to the media after the win about his program. A full transcript of the interview can be found below, but first some context.
The first question Golden was asked was about a quote from Kentucky head coach John Calipari saying that his team beat Florida in “just about every category.” What Calipari actually said was that there were “so many categories” that his Kentucky beat Florida in.
Responding to Coach Calipari
I thought it was a pretty even game, looking at the stat sheet. We hit 12 threes, they hit 10. We made 18 free throws, they made 11. We out-rebounded them by two. We each had the same assists, same turnovers. So, that’s kind of factually incorrect, to be honest.
My stance is just that it was a heck of a game, man. It was a heck of a game. Very similar to the game in our gym where we built a little lead in the first half, and the opposing team was resilient and kept battling and didn’t let the home team off the hook.
There was that stretch in the second half where I felt like we really couldn’t do anything to stop them. They just kept putting the ball in the basket, but we did a really good job executing on our end and stepped up and hit a lot of big shots. We made six threes in the second half.
Into opening statement
At the end of the day, I’m really proud of the way we executed down the stretch after going down four. (Tyrese Samuel) had a big-time layup. I think it was Robert who missed the backend of a two-shot foul, and then our guys played really poised in that last 15 seconds.
It would’ve been easy for (Zyon Pullin) to come down and take a hero shot, trying to extend the game. We did a great job playing off two, found Walt on the wrap and, as Walt said, got his defender up in the air, slide-stepped. That’s a great shot for him. Any shot that he gets up, we feel like is a really good shot for our team.
Once we got it to overtime, it kind of felt like we were playing with house money at that point. We weren’t nervous about anything. It was a five-minute game. Obviously, if you would have asked us coming into tonight, would you have taken a five-minute game to determine the winner, we would have said absolutely.
Again, in overtime, ‘Rese hitting that baseline jumper kind of got us going and just made some big shots. And I thought down the stretch we guarded well, held them to 25% in overtime. So, it’s a heck of a win for us. We’ve been knocking on the door for a win like this in our opportunities.
To be honest, I thought our win at home against Mississippi State last week was a big one for us because they had been playing really well. They had just beaten Tennessee and then another really good team at home, Auburn.
Huge win for us and, again, this team that we have, we only have two guys that really played last year, it was Riley (Kugel) and Will (Richard). A brand new group. We added some veterans mixed in with some young guys but this team, I feel like, is really coming together at the right time.”
On expecting Kentucky to foul late
Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about it a whole lot during the heat of the moment. Looking back on it, it would have been an opportunity probably, but there’s, honestly, analytically, it’s 50-50 whether you foul or not, and my thing is we try to be consistent in those opportunities just so our guys know what we do.
They played it out. Reed (Sheppard) is a really good help defender and takes some chances but he had just blocked Walter’s shot in the corner a couple of minutes before, showing an ability to close out in a rotation and Walt was really poised being able to put that ball in the basket.
On having played overtime games already this season
That Georgia one was a little different than the one tonight. We had a 21-point lead in the second half and found a way to trick that off but found a way to win.
Listen, we definitely are comfortable in those moments now. I don’t necessarily think it’s a great strategy to be successful all the time, to go to overtime but the ball bounced our way a couple of times in those games. We played really well against Michigan in overtime, in the second overtime. Georgia we played great in overtime and obviously tonight we played really well.
Our guys are proving to be comfortable in those moments. I would prefer to win in regulation, though, to be honest.
On facing Ugonna Onyenso
He’s definitely coming on. The first time we played them, I think he played under 10 minutes, but you can tell by the way they’ve been playing and how he’s been playing that he’s becoming more of a focal point in the frontcourt.
The offensive – he was 4-for-11 from the field. I can live with that. He did a great job making his free throws. I think he was 45% coming into the game, if I remember correctly, and then he dominated us on the glass.
I think he’s providing Kentucky with some toughness and physicality and rim protection. He had eight blocks tonight. I did not realize that. He had a heck of a game, man. Goodness gracious. He’s playing really well and you can tell that he’s becoming more confident out there as well.
On what was different from the first matchup
Obviously, DJ (Wagner) being out is a big loss for them. He’s done a great job playing the point for them and keeping them organized, and I think they lost to Wilmington without DJ also back in November or early December. I’m mindful of that.
Coming in here and winning was huge for us. We felt like we missed an opportunity at home, and they did their part to earn it, but we led for 30 minutes at home and we didn’t get the win. Coming into this game, we felt like this was an opportunity to make amends for that first loss, and we feel like we’re more confident.
We had won three in a row coming into tonight. Our guys are just playing really well together. I think this is our program’s first top-10 road win since 2003 or something like that. We’re making strides. We’re headed in the right direction. We have the right guys in the program. We’re just really excited to see where the rest of the year goes.
It doesn’t get easier from here for us. We go on the road to College Station on Saturday. That’s going to be a really, really tough game. But this should be a good confidence builder for us. To come into Rupp and win is obviously really, really hard to do. I think I saw something that coach Cal has won 91% or 92% of his games in here since he’s been a coach here. That speaks for itself and hopefully, we can build on this moving forward.”
The Gators will travel to College Station to take on the Texas A&M Aggies on Saturday, Feb. 3, for the first game of the new month. The matchup is set to tip off at 4 p.m. ET and can be watched on ESPN2.