Florida senior point guard Chris Chiozza admitted the confidence level for the Gators has been up and down throughout the 2017-18 season.
“We’ve been trying to work on that to keep it consistently going up, but we haven’t found a way to do it,” Chiozza said. “But we know what we’re capable of so, you know, I don’t think we’re going to lose confidence in ourselves.”
The reeling Gators, who dropped back out of the Associated Press Top 25 rankings on Monday, are in desperate need of a win Wednesday at home against LSU. Florida (15-8, 6-4 SEC) has lost three of its last four games, including a 68-50 home loss to Alabama on Saturday in which the Gators were outscored 41-17 in the second half.
In reviewing the film, Florida coach Mike White said numerous breakdowns early in the second half set the tone for the final 20 minutes.
“Early second half, our transition defense really failed us,” White said Monday. “It started with our floor balance. Our guys did a very poor job getting back on the release of shots. Alabama is really good in transition in offense and we didn’t get a chance to set our half-court D. Some of it was a little bit effort. Some of it was a little bit of wind. But most of all, it was our guys weren’t in the right spot that they were supposed to be in. Just a lack of discipline. That’s on me. We’ve got to fix our floor balance. And then our shot selection early second half was not very good.”
White said he doesn’t view the final eight games as a make or break stretch, but rather is focused on just having two good practices heading into the LSU matchup.
“As a staff, you want your team to max out,” White said. “This team’s not close to maxing out, unfortunately. That’s discouraging. We’re not playing nearly as well as we’re capable of playing. We have some deficiencies, of course. We’re coming off a couple games where we looked good in spurts and we weren’t very good at all in other spurts. I guess as a head coach, my goal is for this team to max out. My short-term goal is to be really good today, and we’ve got a ways to go to do that.”
Florida showed the ability to bounce back from a rocky stretch in December, winning six in a row after losing four of five games. In an interesting symmetry to this season, the Gators started 5-0 in non-conference play before dropping to 6-4, then started 4-0 in SEC play before falling to 6-4.
“The urgency is higher than it’s been all year,” Chiozza said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to get out the three-game (conference) skid. We only got eight games left and we want to put ourselves in a good position for the postseason, the conference tournament and everything. We want some momentum going into that.”
To do that, Florida needs to iron out its problems with defense, rebounding and shot selection. In their last two games, the Gators struggled scoring down the stretch against Georgia and Alabama. Florida scored just nine points in the final 10:49 against Georgia and seven points in the final 11:56 against Alabama.
“The discussion at time outs offensively, was guys let it come to us, we can’t press, we’ve got to take good ones,” White said. “But this team continues to struggle with guys trying to do it all on their own at times offensively, not doing it together, not helping each other out. That will be a big point of emphasis moving forward.”
Defensively, the Gators allowed Alabama to shoot 58.1 percent from the field in the second half and forced five turnovers, after forcing 14 turnovers in the first half. White said some of the breakdowns have to do with a lack of communication. In the first half, White and his staff can direct traffic defensively from the bench. In the second half, it’s up to players to communicate with one another to be in right spots on the floor.
“We’re not a great communicating team,” White said. “It’s hurt us in second halves. We’ll continue to stress it.”
Said Chiozza: “We’re away from the bench so that’s when, you know, the scouting report and just being connected comes into play more. You know you can’t really hear the bench at all when you’re on the other end of the court, especially with our crowd. So it’s just important with the guys close to you that you’re always talking.”
White said he anticipates making some lineup changes following the Alabama loss, but will judge it based on how players perform in practice the next few days. It does not appear that any of the three injured big men will be ready in time for LSU. White said freshman center Isaiah Stokes is continuing to lose weight and freshman forward Chase Johnson is continuing to make progress from concussion protocol. Senior center John Egbunu did not warm up before the Alabama game after not making the trip earlier last week to Georgia.
“He’s discouraged, but he’s just doing his best to get back and help these guys,” White said. “I hope here at some point he’s got that opportunity.”
Who: LSU (13-9, 4-6) vs. Florida (15-8, 6-4)
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: O’Connell Center
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850