‘Our best effort of the year’: Todd Golden reacts to win over Auburn

On3 imageby:Zach Abolverdi02/10/24

ZachAbolverdi

Todd Golden | Florida-Auburn Postgame

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Todd Golden picked up his fourth top-25 win as Florida’s coach in Saturday’s 81-65 win over Auburn, doing so in his 56th game at the helm, the second-fastest of any coach in UF history and the fastest of any Gator coach in the past 50 years.

Here’s everything Golden had to say after the victory against the No. 12 Tigers.

Todd Golden Q&A

On the win over Auburn: 

Golden: “Yeah, I thought we played great. You know, just start to finish, our best effort of the year, obviously. Auburn, for more reasons obviously than simply my relationship with Bruce and Steven, and guys like Chad Prewett, who I worked with for a couple years, going into this game, especially the way they’ve been playing, off the back of that win at home against Alabama where they controlled the game for 40 minutes. If you were to ask me, you know, is Auburn in the mix of teams that could win a national championship, I’d say ‘hell yeah.’ They’re playing as well as anybody – top-10 offense, top-3 defense, a lot of continuity on the roster, a lot of really, really good players, you know, and then we come out and we play our best game of the year against them. And obviously it’s in the same bucket as the Kentucky win, you know, it’s a great, great program-lifting win, but where I’m really proud of our team and our program is, as you all know, we’ve been playing really well, you know, we had won four out of the last five going into this game, but we were having trouble maintaining leads in the second half. We were having trouble keeping our foot on the pedal, and at halftime, the message was simple to the guys, I say ‘hey, it’s time for us to grow up a little bit, we got a 16-point lead against a great team, but we’re not just going to try to get this thing to the finish line, we got to come out and be aggressive’, and I think we scored 20 points in the first six or seven minutes of the second half to really set the tone that way. So, you know, obviously a lot of positives, really pleased with our effort today, and I feel like our guys are starting to gain some really good confidence right now.”

On setting the tone in the first 3 minutes of each half: 

Golden: “Yep, we are obviously, our starting group did a great job that way, and, again, it was a mentality, that’s the best way I can describe it. I thought our guys did a great job and coming out, being aggressive early, and, again, just an incredible crowd, right. Just an incredible crowd. It felt like every time we scored a basket the place was erupting, and that gives you a huge advantage, right, like it’s a huge homecourt advantage, and our guys really enjoy playing in this environment. And this is what college basketball is all about, a game like today, for sure.”

On how much of the defensive effort was having the week off, being fresh or the scheming: 

Golden: “I think all of the above, you know, our disadvantage last week was our advantage this week, you know. We went into A&M, they had a bye, so they’re waiting on us. Obviously, we had a bye this week, so we were waiting on Auburn, and they had a very emotional game on Wednesday. It was very similar to our situation, winning at Kentucky and then going on the road. They beat their rival, in a game that they considered, you know, somewhat of a must-win in terms of just continuing to build their profile, and so, you know, we had that advantage, but we took advantage of it, and that’s how the schedule broke for us. And when it’s in your favor, you got to do it. We had more time to prep for them, I thought we had a good gameplan, I thought we were really physical, and, you know, we did a good job today.”

On if this was Florida’s best defensive performance of the season:

Golden: “Down the stretch we fouled too much, but, you know, just in terms of executing against a really, really good club, I believe so. You know, we made them miss, they’re a team that hasn’t shot it great all the time on the road, I think that kind of went into our favor today, but again, you know, they’re a top-5 team in the country depending on where you look analytically, so for us to be able to control the game, get a 29-point lead in the second half, obviously it bled a little bit late but it was never in question. I thought it was a really big growth experience for a team.”

On how tough it is to coach against human nature, UF has squandered some leads all year:

Golden: “Damn. I’m messing with you, I got you. You got to experience it, and I think that’s what we’ve been doing. You can coach it, but, and I can sit there and talk about our mentality and say we’ve got to keep our foot on the gas, but to your point of human nature, it’s like ‘alright, well we’re up 16, there’s five minutes to go’ and I thought today we made that step of not doing that. One of the things that Duke Werner, our trainer, said to me at halftime, was ‘Hey, when Billy was in this situation, he would tell the guys we want to play all day, don’t worry about the clock, we want to keep this thing going and build the lead’, and I thought that was a really good point, and something to think about in the second half, was hey let’s not be satisfied being up 16, let’s try to get this thing to 25, let’s not worry about the clock, let’s play, let’s play, let’s play, and I thought we did a good job of that today.”

On the joy Riley Kugel played with: 

Golden: “Yes, he did. Listen, to his credit, he’s done a really good job of getting comfortable with this role that he’s in, being our sixth starter or whatever you want to call it. Obviously he played 29 minutes today, so he’s playing starter-level minutes, and, you know, he was super aggressive today, I thought he was good with the ball, I thought he made good decisions, and obviously he was feeling it a little bit, and when he does that, I want him to be really aggressive trying to score and make plays, and I thought in that stretch he had two threes back to back, the first one and then the and-one three. Those are daggers, man, those are big-time shots in games like this, and you could tell he was playing with a lot of freedom, a lot of joy, and when he does that, he’s, you know, one of the best players out there, for sure.” 

On his message to the NCAA selection committee:

Golden: “I mean, we’re a lock, the biggest lock in the world after today. I think the only thing we might have decide is if we’re wearing white home jerseys in the first round or putting those road unis on. But in all seriousness, we’re in a great spot right now. But we gotta control the controllables and worry about LSU. Just as quickly as we entered this really safe space and really good spot, if you don’t take care of the games on your schedule that you should — and LSU is not going to be an easy game by any stretch. But my point is, just as quickly as it got good for us it can get bad if we don’t take care of business. So obviously, being thoughtful of where we are. But by no means are we content, and we got eight league games left. We got a lot of work to do.”

On what worked defensively against Johni Broome:

Golden: “He’s one of the best players in America right now. I put him top 10 for sure, top five, maybe even. I think he’s number three or four KenPom in terms of his value to his club. We just didn’t want him to be this today. And so, when he got every catch in the post, we’re going to double them. I’m still a little mad that he decided not to come here when I first got the job, so I didn’t want him to score it all. Now I have a lot of respect, he’s a great kid, a lot of respect for his ability to play. And we just wanted to run bodies on him and make it really hard for him and make him think about something every time he caught the ball. Ten 10 shots, five makes, obviously a rough game from the line (1 of 8). But he was incredible on Wednesday against Alabama, like he made every play and I thought today we did a good job of making him see more jerseys, more bodies when he was in the paint.”

On Micah Handlogten’s performance:

Golden: “I thought he was awesome, was awesome. We’ve been challenging him to play with more physicality, and transparently he wasn’t good enough against A&M that way. Today I thought he accepted that challenge and really delivered. Great on the glass, really good around the rim – I think it four blocks which is the most he’s had in a long time. Listen, there frontcourt is one of the best, if not the best in America. They got Johni, they go Jaylin (Williams), and then they bring in Dylan Cardwell, who’s like one of the biggest winners in college basketball. Chaney (Johnson) provides good minutes for them. So they just keep running these really good players at you. So huge challenge but I thought Micah answered the bell really well today.”

On if he was bothered by the late scoring drought:

Golden: “No. Yeah, were just winning by a lot. So as long as we didn’t stop winning by a lot, I was gonna be okay. We were making our free throws. We were playing well, we missed some tip-ins, some second chances. I didn’t think we went too much stall mode. It was more of just missing some shots. We were still getting to the line. That ain’t gonna make me upset today my boy.”

On beating his mentor Bruce Pearl:

Golden: “The reality is that I’m not here without Bruce Pearl. That’s first and foremost. And not just from our relationship, playing back in 2009 and Israel or obviously working with him for two years at Auburn. Those two years were tough, man. The job that he’s done at Auburn is not replicable. The situation that he took over it was just a very tough situation – and it took time. But he never wavered. He stayed true to what he knew would get that program back on track. I’m a little upset. I was only there for the first two years because those weren’t that fun. We took a lot of losses. And then they got really, really good really, really fast after I left — to a Final Four two years later. But this game for as great as I feel about winning, like Steven and Bruce are family to me and I love those guys. And that’s kind of a tricky part of this. Similar to my old job when I had to play against Randy Bennett, a guy who coached me and gave me an opportunity to play. But he’s one of the best coaches in college basketball and what he’s done in Auburn again, had Tennessee No. 1 in the country and goes to Auburn, Final Four. I think they are one of, if not the best team in America right now. Just incredible. But I know he’s pissed that they lost, but I do think he’s also proud of me and proud of the job we’ve done here to get Florida kind of back on the map a little bit.”

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