By Morris Phillips
The Cal Bears desperately needed to make it to halftime within striking distance with an opportunity to regroup. But the hot shooting Florida Gators wouldn’t let it happen.
No. 23 Florida closed the first half on an extended 33-12 run that saw them turn a two-point deficit into a 19-point halftime lead. The Gators cruised from there, winning 80-60 at the Fort Myers Tip-Off at Suncoast Credit Union Arena.
“Credit the guys, not the adjustments,” Florida coach Mike White said. “I thought our energy level picked up.”
“We just got overwhelmed the last eight minutes of the first half,” coach Mark Fox said. “They’re an excellent team, but we’re certainly very disappointed in how we played.”
The Bears needed a credible shooting performance and some measure of a grasp on their opponent’s explosive offense, but they got neither. The Gators made 54 percent of their threes and 14 of 15 free throw attempts before halftime. Offensively, the Bears struggled with Florida’s quickness that made passing lanes disappear soon after they opened.
Jordan Shepherd, Cal’s leading scorer was limited to 15 points in 28 minutes on the floor, and Andre Kelly, coming off a 29-point, 15-rebound effort against San Diego, was limited to four shot attempts, and finished with nine.
“We didn’t get the ball entered as cleanly as we would like to,” Fox admitted.
The Bears committed 18 turnovers, and shot 41 percent in the first half when the game was decided. If shooting threes was the Bears’ method to stay close it never materialized. They attempted just four, and made one before the half.
Colin Castleton, the UF spindly big man, led the Gators with 16 points, eight rebounds. Tyree Appleby had 15, with a perfect performance from the line (7 for 7). Myreon Jones added 13, and Phlandrous Fleming Jr. had 11 off the bench.
“He created those shots,” White said of Castleton. “Outside of him, being prolific on the block, I do think we shared and moved it pretty well.”
The Bears got eight points from Lars Thiemann, and seven from Jalen Celestine, with both players coming off the Cal bench.
These two schools with big-time graduate journalism programs aren’t big on visiting the other’s campus. It’s never happened. This meeting was the third in the series, and all three have taken place in neutral buildings around the holidays. Cal won both previous meetings at the 1986 Rainbow Shootout in Honolulu, and the 1988 Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage.
Cal concludes its Florida swing with a meeting with Seton Hall on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. The No. 21 Pirates lost the tournament opener, 79-76 to unranked Ohio State.