Florida is looking to reverse its recent free fall in the SEC standings and stay in contention for a league title.
But it won’t get any easier today when the Gators host LSU.
Last season, Florida blitzed LSU 106-71 in Baton Rouge. But much has changed for the Tigers in the span of a year. New LSU coach Will Wade has stressed more accountability on defense. Wade also brought in a freshman playmaking point guard, Tremont Waters, who already has shown a knack for making big shots.
LSU has proven it can win games on the road in conference play this season, with wins at Arkansas and at Texas A&M.
“They’re going to be very difficult to defend and they’re going to come in prepared defensively,” Florida coach Mike White said. “It’s going to be another really challenging SEC game.”
The 5-foot-11 Waters has spearheaded LSU’s defensive improvement, ranking first in the SEC in steals at 2.2. Waters also ranks second in the league in assists (5.9) and 11th in scoring (15.3 ppg).
“He’s a handful,” White said. “He’s really, really gifted with the ball in his hands, he’s a terrific scorer and passer. He sees everything out there.”
Waters hit a 30-foot buzzer-beater to knock off Texas A&M in College Station earlier this season. After facing Alabama freshman phenom Collin Sexton on Saturday, Florida senior point guard Chris Chiozza will face another marquee matchup with an emerging young talent.
“He’s a good scorer and he’s good at distributing the ball,” Chiozza said. “Smart player.”
Florida is looking to solve its own offensive issues. The Gators are averaging just 55 points over their last two games, a stretch that has included cold shooting and questionable shot selection. Florida is just 9 for its last 38 from 3-point range.
Chiozza said he doesn’t think it’s a case of the book being out on how to guard the Gators, to run them off the 3-point line and force them to drive to the basket.
“They’ve been trying to do that to us all year and we’ve found ways to, you know, still get some wins,” Chiozza said.
White said it’s important for the Gators to take smarter shots.
“Shot selection is very, very sensitive,” White said. “I beat this team up on shot selection early in the year and it seemed like the direct result of that was we couldn’t make a shot for a month and we were overthinking everything. It can’t become too mental. I want our guys to play with a lot of confidence and I want us to be aggressive, but we’ve got to clean some of these shots up that are deflating. I think they can affect our energy level both offensively in becoming stagnant and defensive transition.”
Defensively, Chiozza is expecting the Gators to show more fight after giving up 41 points in the second half of their 68-50 loss to Alabama. Florida has lost three of its last four games and has suffered three straight conference losses.
“That’s on everybody, myself included,” Chiozza said. “We’re gonna play harder, play definitely harder than we have the last three games. Probably the hardest we’ve played all year, the last eight games right here. We’re gonna try to get everybody back to where we were.”
Who: Florida Gators (15-8, 6-4 SEC) vs. LSU Tigers (13-9, 4-6 SEC)
When: 6:30 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center, Gainesville
TV: SEC Network
Radio: AM-850, 103.7-FM
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G KeVaughn Allen;6-2;Jr.;11.5 ppg; 2.3 rpg
G Chris Chiozza;6-0; Sr.;12.3 ppg;6.0 apg
G Egor Koulechov;6-5; GSr.;14.3 ppg;7.0 rpg
F Keith Stone;6-8; RSo.;8.2 ppg;3.9 rpg
C Kevarrius Hayes;6-9; Jr.;5.1 ppg;5.2 rpg
LSU PROBABLE STARTERS
G Randy Onwuasor;6-3;GSr.;5.0 ppg;2.0 rpg
G Tremont Waters;5-11;Fr.;15.2 ppg;5.9 apg
G Skylar Mays;6-4;So.;11.1 ppg;3.9 rpg
F Aaron Epps;6-10;Sr.;9.9 ppg;5.9 rpg
F Duop Reath;6-11;Sr.;14.0 ppg;5.5 rpg
Notes: Florida is 45-63 all-time against LSU and 28-20 against the Tigers at home. … Florida leads the SEC in turnover margin (plus-4.4) while ranking second in 3-pointers per game (9.4). … The top three free throw shooters are on UF’s roster. Grad transfer forward Egor Koulechov leads the SEC in free throw shooting at 90.9 percent, followed by KeVaughn Allen at 90.8 percent and Chris Chiozza at 88.1 percent. … With 502 career assists, Chiozza is the fourth Gator in school history to join the 500 assist club. Chiozza needs 45 assists to pass Erving Walker for UF’s all-time leader in assists. … Junior guard Jalen Hudson is just 6 of his last 24 from the floor but still leads the Gators and ranks ninth in the SEC in scoring at 15.7 ppg. … LSU is coming off a 94-86 win over Arkansas on Saturday, going 15 for 30 from 3-point range. … The game will pit two of the worst rebounding teams in the league. LSU ranks 12th in the SEC in rebounding margin at -0.8, while Florida ranks last at -1.7.
— Kevin Brockway