GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—With stories about his online gambling debt circulating, Nick Calathes easily could have been distracted.
He seemed unworried.
Calathes had 16 points, seven assists, four rebounds and three steals, Dan Werner added 19 points and No. 19 Florida opened the season with an 80-58 victory over Toledo on Friday night.
“I don’t think it fazed him at all,” teammate Chandler Parsons said. “None of that stuff is true. He didn’t let it affect him.”
The Gators, trying to rebound from missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade, won their 18th consecutive season opener and improved to 51-6 under coach Billy Donovan in November.
More importantly, Florida looked much improved on defense. The Gators, who finished 10th in the Southeastern Conference in field-goal defense and ninth in rebounding last season, forced four 10-second violations and held the Rockets to 43.8 percent shooting.
Jonathan Amos led Toledo with 22 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Calathes was Florida’s catalyst, despite a potential distraction.
Calathes acknowledged truth to a story first reported by Yahoo.com that said he ran up a $600 debt playing poker online, but was adamant he did nothing illegal.
Donovan and athletic director Jeremy Foley agreed. Calathes said he wasn’t sure how much money he owed.
“I lost money,” Calathes said. “I really don’t know how much.”
Donovan said he heard rumors about Calathes’ gambling debt, but an investigation by the school’s athletic department found no evidence of wrongdoing.
“The only thing I’m going to say about any of that stuff is the unfortunate part in all this is nobody on our team has done anything wrong,” Donovan said. “It’s amazing to me that stories can actually be written or talked about when someone’s done nothing wrong.
“We heard the rumors and we reacted to the rumors, responded to them, talked to Nick, talked to the team … handled the whole situation. To me, it’s not even a story. There’s no story. Nobody did anything wrong.”
Foley said he was confident that Florida had “no eligibility issues” regarding the matter.
Calathes was in the starting lineup against Toledo, which kept it close for most of the first half—until Florida began making 3-pointers. The Gators missed their first eight shots from behind the arc, then reeled off four in row to spark a 16-2 run that started with about 3:30 to play and spanned halftime.
Allan Chaney, one of four freshmen making their official debut for the Gators, started the 3-point barrage. Walter Hodge, Calathes and Werner followed.
The Gators finished 7-of-19 from 3-point range and shot 53 percent from the floor. They were even better on defense, successfully pressing, forcing 25 turnovers and finishing with 12 steals.
“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to press everybody like we did tonight, but I think the difference in the game for us was the pressure up the floor and forcing 25 turnovers,” Donovan said.
The press helped the Gators build a 56-31 early in the second half, and they cruised from there even with Adam Allen (knee) and Eloy Vargas (ankle) sitting out with injuries.
“Their full-court pressure was tremendous,” Toledo coach Gene Cross said. “You can’t turn the ball over against teams and expect to win the game.”