How do you shed the soft label? That’s what Florida coach Mike White wants the Gators to figure out, beginning tonight at the O’Connell Center against Loyola-Chicago.
White was upset with UF’s lack of physical and mental toughness following its lopsided home loss to rival Florida State on Monday night. The Gators were outrebounded 51-34 and outscored 24-8 in second-chance points. Florida’s 83-66 loss to the Seminoles was the second worst in the three-year White era and worst since falling 80-61 to then No. 20 Kentucky on Feb. 6, 2016 at Rupp Arena.
“We’ve just got to figure out what we’ve got in our tanks and how bad we want it, how willing we are to pay the price to be really competitive when we’re not making shots,” White said.
The Gators were outscored 36-20 in the paint and 12-6 on fast break points. White was irked with UF’s transition defense, which he graded an “F” after reviewing film Tuesday morning.
“We’ve got to become way better on the defensive glass and in defensive transition which we hung our hat on last year,” White said. “We’re about as bad as it gets in defensive transition right now, which is mental and physical toughness and it’s communication level.”
The Gators are giving up 81 points per game through seven games. That kind of defense won’t hold up when you shoot 24 percent from 3-point range, which the Gators did on Monday night against FSU (6-25). Florida has been outscored by 37 points in its last 49-plus minutes on the floor since blowing a 17-point second half lead to No. 1 Duke.
“We’ve got to be tough and find other ways to win,” Florida senior guard Egor Koulechov said following the loss. “Tonight we didn’t and if we don’t in other games like that the result is going to be the same.”
White said he intends to continue to challenge his four post players — center Kevarrius Hayes, center Gorjok Gak, forward Keith Stone and forward Dontay Bassett — in practice. Freshman forward Chase Johnson sat out the FSU game with an illness and remains day-to-day.
While Loyola-Chicago is a more perimeter oriented team than FSU, the Ramblers do have some size inside with 6-foot-9, 260-pound freshman Cameron Krutwig at center and 7-foot, 245-pound center Cameron Brate coming off the bench.
“Just continuing to stress it, continuing to show the film work,” White said. “We had four or five possessions, where one-on-one, our big versus their big, they beat us in physicality, they just shoved us out of the way, got a rebound and went and dunked it. But there were another four or five where they’re in a wrestling match and they’re doing their job and we had a guard that didn’t do his job. So it’s all of us by committee trying to defensive rebound together. Our bigs in transition defense need to be better.”
Stokes, Egbunu update
Florida freshman 6-8, 270-pound center Isaiah Stokes worked out on the O’Connell Center court two hours before the FSU tipoff on Monday, but remains at least a month away from returning from a torn ACL. White had discussed the possibility of redshirting Stokes, but given UF’s struggles in the post, the younger brother of former Tennessee and NBA center Jarnell Stokes could be needed inside.
“I told him don’t bank on redshirting,” White said. “If that thought is in his mind then there won’t be an option, you know mentally, he’ll be checked out. Of course, on record, it’s going to be something we’re going to have to consider. I just want him preparing to get to 100 percent, get in game shape and practice two or three weeks and evaluate where we are there at that point and see where we are there. I think he’s probably a good month away from practicing.”
Meanwhile, White said Florida senior 6-11, 265-pound center John Egbunu is progressing in his rehab and remains on track for a January return. Egbunu is doing some cutting, running and individual drills, but has yet to be cleared for contact.
“He’s a ways away from taking contact so far, lateral movement, defending a ball screen, posting up, first contact, you know, all those type things,” White said. “I think we’re probably another four or five weeks before (trainer) Duke (Werner) takes that next step up with them.”
Holding onto timeouts
White said he chose not to call any timeouts during some early FSU runs because he wanted to save them for late in the first half.
“I like to save one for late first half unless something just happens that’s way out of character, they just made an enormous run,” White said. “I think in looking at it, we were up one with like four minutes left, we were in a pretty good place despite some missed shots and some bad turnovers, their points off of turnovers, three or four really bad defensive rebounding possessions for us.
“We’re still up one against a good team and then late first half of course, we didn’t finish strong and in the middle of the second half we didn’t play well at all.”
Who: No. 5 Florida Gators (5-2) vs. Loyola Chicago Ramblers (8-1)
When: 8 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center/Exactech Arena, Gainesville
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, 98.1-FM, AM -50
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G;KeVaughn Allen;6-2;So.;13.7 ppg; 3.4 rpg
G;Chris Chiozza;6-0; Sr.;11.7 ppg;6.4 apg
G;Egor Koulechov;6-5; GSr.;16.7 ppg;6.6 rpg
G;Jalen Hudson;6-6; RJr.;20.9 ppg;4.4 rpg
C;Kevarrius Hayes;6-9; Jr.;4.7 ppg;4.3 rpg
LOYOLA-CHICAGO PROBABLE STARTERS
G;Marque Townes; 6-4;Jr.;13.4 ppg;5.2 rpg
G;Clayton Custer;6-1; RJr.;13.4 ppg;4.3 apg
F;Aundre Jackson; 6-5;Sr.;13.8 ppg;4.2 rpg
F;Donte Ingram;6-6;Sr.;12.3 ppg;6.9 rpg
C;Cameron Krutwig;6-9;Fr.;7.2 ppg;6.0 rpg
Notes: This is the first meeting between Florida and Loyola Chicago. … The Gators are coming off an 83-66 home loss to FSU, just their second in 14 home games following the $64.5 million renovation of the O’Connell Center, which was completed in December of 2016. … With the FSU loss, the Gators dropped from first to second in the nation in scoring at 94.7 ppg. Virginia Tech leads the nation in scoring at 96.8 ppg. … Florida also ranks 9th in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.6-1. … At 408 career assists, Florida point guard Chris Chiozza moved into 10th in UF’s all-time assist list. Chiozza leads the SEC with 6.4 assists per game. … Florida freshman 6-5 swingman Deaundrae Ballard is averaging 8.3 points and 3.1 rebounds off the bench. … Florida junior guard KeVaughn Allen has made 26 straight free throws, and is 16 shy of Canyon Barry’s school record of 42 straight free throws made. … Like Florida, Loyola-Chicago is a dangerous team from the perimeter. The Ramblers are shooting 41.8 percent from 3-point range and making 8.2 3-pointers per game, while Florida is shooting 42.9 percent from 3-point range and making 10.7 3s per game. … Aundre Jackson is Loyola’s most efficient offensive player, shooting 66.7 percent from the floor and 55.6 percent from 3-point range while averaging 20.2 minutes per game. … Loyola Chicago’s lone loss was 87-53 at Boise State on Nov. 28.
— Kevin Brockway