GAINESVILLE — It was billed as such a big game between brand new SEC foes No. 10 Florida and No. 17 Missouri that members of Florida's Rowdy Reptiles student section camped out all night to get into the game, part of the Gators' first sellout this season.
They were rewarded well for that dedication.
The Gators put on a defensive clinic and balanced that with 59 percent shooting from the field to defeat Missouri 83-52 in front of 12,597 at the O'Connell Center on Saturday afternoon, win No. 400 for Donovan at Florida.
It was the worst loss for Missouri (13-4, 2-2 SEC) since a 100-63 defeat to Kansas in 2008. The Gators and Ole Miss are the lone teams with undefeated SEC records.
"A 30-point victory against one of the best teams in the SEC?" Florida center Patric Young said. "It was a great victory. I'm sure nobody expected that. I know they thought they were going to come in here and upset us, but we were prepared so well for this game and we really wanted this win."
They played like it from the opening tip, when Young tapped the ball to junior guard Scottie Wilbekin, who went in for a layup and a lead the Gators never relinquished. Florida led 40-23 at halftime, holding the Tigers (13-4, 2-2) to 33.3 percent shooting from the field, forcing 21 turnovers and outscoring Missouri 22-6 in the paint.
Missouri, which played without leading scorer Laurence Bowers for the third straight game because of a sprained ligament in his right knee, was ranked No. 1 nationally in rebounding, but the Gators outrebounded the Tigers 35-25, only the fourth team this season to accomplish that.
"Florida is an outstanding ballclub," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "They beat us in every phase of the game. We didn't play the way we needed to play to come in and beat a team like Florida."
Wilbekin was given the daunting task of defending Missouri's star guard Phil Pressey, who finished 1-of-7 from the field with two points, six assists and 10 turnovers. The Gators scored 34 points off the Tigers' turnovers.
"He's (Pressey) a great player, one of the best in the SEC, so it was great going up against him," said Wilbekin who had 13 points and 10 assists for the first double double of his career. "I like that competition like that, it's great."
The postgame celebration included a surprise dumping of the ice bucket on Donovan, but the longtime Gator coach insisted the milestone victory wasn't about him but past and present players.
"Like I've said before, I think all those individual things as it relates to coaching, it's much, much more of a reflection on the players I've had a chance to coach here," Donovan said. "That's really what it's about. For me to be here and to be a part of 400 wins, I don't look at them as my wins, I look at them as University of Florida wins. … Overall there's a lot of people that were not here that played a significant role in it."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]