GAINESVILLE — Florida coach Billy Donovan is constantly preaching to his players that when the shots aren't falling, they better have something else to fall back on.
Thursday night, the shots didn't fall, but the No. 18 Gators prevailed. Despite going 0-for-15 from 3-point range until Dan Werner hit one in the final 22.1 seconds, Florida defeated Southern Utah 64-50.
"It certainly was not a pretty game," Donovan said. "… You always talk as a coach about how fragile shooting is. The thing I was really proud about our team and I think we've made some growth, last year when we would have had a shooting night like that, we wouldn't have even attempted to play defense. Not even tried."
Florida led 33-25 at halftime, after leading by as many as 16. But Utah closed the half with a 9-0 run. Poor free-throw shooting helped keep the game close. Florida shot 9-of-15 from the line and at one point was 1-of-6.
The Gators opened the second half with an 11-2 run, but Southern Utah didn't back down. Led by junior guard Davis Baker —who scored 21 of his game-high 23 in the second half — the Thunderbirds pulled within 10 several times down the stretch but couldn't get any closer.
"We knew we were shooting real bad, but our press really helped us and our defense, too," said sophomore guard Nick Calathes, who scored a team-high 18.
Florida forced 21 turnovers but turned them into just 23 points.
Florida (3-0) scored 38 in the paint.
Florida was averaging 10.5 3-pointers, and Werner's shot kept alive a streak of 546 games with at least one 3-point basket.
"We made 14 3s our last game, and we could not throw the ball into the ocean tonight," said Donovan, who added his team will learn more from this victory than the previous 20-point margin wins. "… Nothing went our way. We had to scrape and bow through."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]