Call it a final tuneup.
As Florida continues to learn to win defensively, the Gators also will try to return to a semblance of the dynamic offense they showed earlier this season on Friday night when they face Incarnate Word. It will be UF’s final game before SEC play starts Dec. 30 at home against Vanderbilt, though the Gators will play one more non-conference game Jan. 27 at home against No. 18 Baylor in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.
The Gators slogged through a 37.9-percent shooting night from the floor in a 72-63 win over James Madison on Wednesday night. Florida has posted a negative or even assist-to-turnover ratio in each of its last five games, with just 45 assists to 63 turnovers during that span.
“We’re going through a process where we’re an improved defensive team from a month ago,” Florida coach Mike White said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on that side of the basketball and it’s probably taken away some improvement — or, I guess, maintenance — of how well we were playing offensively. We’ve got to continue this improvement defensively and somehow get back to playing with the level of confidence we were playing with offensively early in the season, and also the level of ball movement.”
The Gators have faced more zone defenses of late, settling at times for quick shots against the zone rather than attacking opposing teams through ball and player movement.
“An inordinate amount of teams have played an inordinate (amount of) defenses against us,” White said. “I guess that just sort of speaks to the fact that we can be pretty good offensively at times. We are standing a little bit more than I like against zones, driving it less than I’d like. We have to be more aggressive driving and settling less for jumpers.”
As for pace of play, White said opposing teams are continuing to send less players to the offensive boards, which has resulted in fewer opportunities to get numbers on the break.
“It’s probably helped our defensive rebounding a bit,” White said. “Teams are very cognizant of the fact that we’ve been good at least at times in transition offense. We’ve scored a bunch of points against some teams early in the season and teams have scouted us and done a good job of really balancing the floor.”
As a result, Florida has been forced to play more half-court offense. The slower pace hasn’t suited the Gators. Florida is averaging 66.4 points over its last five games.
“It’s made us have to be more aware of the fact that we’ve got to execute better in the halfcourt,” White said. “I don’t want to have guys leaking out. We’ve got to finish stops and if we get an outlet and we get a guard get a rebound, and they’ve got five guys on the other side of halfcourt, I want to continue to run. But I want to be under control and not force the issue. If we’ve got to play in the halfcourt, we’ve got to play in the halfcourt.”
Who: Florida Gators (7-4) vs. Incarnate Word Cardinals (5-4)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center/Exactech Arena, Gainesville
TV: SEC Network
Radio: AM-850, 103.7-FM
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G;KeVaughn Allen 6-2 Jr., 12.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg
G;Chris Chiozza 6-0 Sr., 12.6 ppg 5.9 apg
G;Egor Koulechov 6-5 GSr., 14.3 ppg 6.9 rpg
F;Keith Stone 6-8 RSo., 5.7 ppg 2.9 rpg
C;Kevarrius Hayes 6-9 Jr., 3.9 ppg 4.9 rpg
INCARNATE WORD PROBABLE STARTERS
G;Shawn Johnson 6-5 Sr., 11.4 ppg 6.6 rpg
G;Jalin Hart 5-11 Sr., 9.1 ppg 4.8 apg
G;Keaton Harvey 6-7 Fr., 7.3 ppg 2.4 rpg
F;Charles Brown III 6-7 Jr., 11.1 ppg 5.1 rpg
F;Simi Socks;6-6 Jr., 15.4 ppg 5.6 rpg
Notes: Florida and Incarnate Word are meeting for the first time in school history. … The Gators rank second in SEC in turnover margin (plus-4.6), while ranking third in scoring offense (84.5 ppg), free-throw percentage (.755), steals (7.4 spg) and 3-pointers made (9.4 3pg). … Point guard Chris Chiozza leads the SEC in assists (5.9 apg), while senior guard Egor Koulechov leads the SEC in free throw percentage (96.7 pct). … Junior guard Jalen Hudson is averaging a team-high 18.6 ppg and came off the bench to score 10 points in UF’s 72-63 win over James Madison. … Incarnate Word is based in San Antonio, Texas, and plays in the Southland Conference. The Cardinals are coming off a 72-66 loss to UTEP and have suffered losses at No. 12 Gonzaga (103-68) and at Houston (97-58). … Incarnate Word is expecting 7-foot junior college transfer center Konstantin Kulikov to make his season debut tonight against the Gators. … Florida is 9-0 all-time against Southland Conference teams.
— Kevin Brockway