As a six seed in the NCAA Tournament, Florida coach Mike White understands the advantages and disadvantages of facing the winner of the play-in game between 11 seeds St. Bonaventure and UCLA in Dayton on Tuesday night.
“I would rather know who we’re playing and be able to spend three or four days prepping for that team,” White said.
“There are also other ways to look at it, of course. These guys have to travel. There’s another disadvantage (for us) in that they get to get their feet wet. We’re going to play a team that’s got a little momentum. That has an NCAA Tournament win already.”
The Gators (20-12) found out their draw Sunday evening on the tarmac of Lambert Airport after a travel snafu forced them to stay in St. Louis an extra day. Opening in Dallas, as the six seed in the East Region, Florida is hopeful to wipe the slate clean again after a disappointing early exit in the SEC Tournament quarterfinal. UF’s 80-72 loss to Arkansas snapped a three-game win streak.
“To defend the way we did the other night, it was very discouraging,” White said. “But maybe we’ve got another positive chapter in us where our urgency will pick back up. Our guys, despite being addicted to video games, I think our guys understand right now if we lose it’s over and the legacy of this team will be what it is at this point.”
White said St. Bonaventure and UCLA present different challenges. The Bonnies are led by senior guard Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, who are combining to score 38.3 points per game.
“Just a terrific, really, really underrated backcourt,” White said.
UCLA boasts more size with 7-foot senior center Thomas Welsh and 6-11 senior forward Gyorgy Goloman, along with All-Pac 12 guard Aaron Holiday, the younger brother of New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday. UCLA is coming off a 78-67 overtime loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament. Like Florida did twice, UCLA knocked off Kentucky (83-75) earlier this season.
“They are really big and they are really long,” White said. “Big guards, length, athleticism, high level of talent. They are a little bit like us where they’ve had some games where they were pretty average and they had some games where they are really, really good.”
White said the Gators won’t send a coach to Dayton to scout the UCLA-St. Bonaventure game live. The team, White said, will gather to watch the game in one hotel room, while the coaching staff will watch it in another room.
“Right after the game is over, we’ll go back and watch each play we want to watch,” White said. “We have so many different film guys. ‘Hey, let’s go back and watch this aspect of the game. Baseline out-of-bounds defense.’ Boom, we’ll have it right there. Their press possessions. Who zoned who.”
Changing defenses caused problems for the Gators in their loss to Arkansas. When the Razorbacks went to a match-up zone late in the first half, Florida failed to score for the final 4:54 of the half. That allowed Arkansas to go on an 8-0 run and take a 30-29 lead into halftime. From there, Florida never regained momentum in the game.
“We’ve got to be more efficient when we see changes in defenses,” White said. “Led by (senior point guard) Chris (Chiozza), we’ve been pretty good at times. Most teams go through issues with changing defenses at one point or another, but overall we’ve been pretty good with that. And, generally speaking, against zone we’ve been terrific. Our zone offensive numbers are better than our man offensive numbers.
“Arkansas’s zone was a little bit unique. We saw it at home here a little bit, but they extended it more. They pressured us and switched everything. We had some looks we didn’t convert. But versus man or versus zone, we have to be ready for all of it, and we don’t have a lot of time to prepare for it.”
White is 3-1 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Elite Eight in his first tournament appearance last season. The third year UF coach said he plans to take the same approach this season as he did last season.
“Really it’s just the next game,” White said. “Anytime you’re in any type of these formats, you can get caught up in the big picture and that’s a distraction. We’ve got to be focused on … today and tomorrow it’s about us. It’s about guarding and getting in a stance, not missing a block out. The meat and potatoes are base defensive principles, which failed us in the SEC Tournament and then it becomes about whether it’s UCLA or St. Bonnie.”
FREE THROWS: Despite the Arkansas loss, Florida stayed in the final AP Top 25 poll of the season, finishing the year ranked No. 23. Florida is 7-8 as a ranked team this season and 13-4 as an unranked team. … White, on if redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone’s 22-point game against Arkansas would merit Stone’s return to the starting lineup. “A couple of different ways to look at it, of course, one would be, boy he’s earned it and the other one would be, he’s playing so well, why would we change his role,” White said. Amazingly, Florida is 0-3 this season when Stone scores 20 or more points. White said Stone’s performance against Arkansas was his best of the season, both offensively and defensively. “He was pretty good defensively,” White said. “He was terrific offensively. From our other three wings, we really struggled defensively. We’ve got to get those guys’ edge back and mentality back in the way that they approach defense these next three days or it makes the decision easier. If Stone’s going to defend these next couple days at a high level, he’ll get the nod.” … White on UF’s string of five straight times reaching at least the Elite Eight in its last five NCAA Tournament appearances: “We’re just such a small part of that. We had a nice run last year. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of it was Coach (Billy) Donovan and his era and his staff and his players and those great teams that he had. We all know we inherited a heck of a program and we’re just fortunate to be here.”