Despite the brief interruption in conference play, Florida men’s basketball coach Mike White expects more of the same come Saturday, when the Gators tip off against TCU in the SEC/Big 12 challenge in the Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena at 12 p.m.
“You’ve got two high-level leagues, and I just think it’s so comparable. Playing at TCU is like playing at a lot of teams in our league, so I don’t think there’s much of a difference,” White said. “It’s an opportunity for us to get a quality win, potentially, if we play well. An opportunity for us to continue to develop a little bit better.”
The Gators appear to have turned a corner after overcoming double-digit deficits in their previous two contests en route to picking up much-needed victories at Georgia and against Texas A&M, yet the Horned Frogs sport a 14-4 record and haven’t lost at home since Nov. 20.
Suffice to say, there’s little margin for error, especially when facing TCU guard Alex Robinson, who is just 15 assists away from becoming the Horned Frogs’ career leader in assists.
“They’re very consistent. They play through Alex Robinson, he’s terrific. They’ve got defined roles. They’ve got some toughness,” White said of TCU. “Defensively, they’re very, very solid. They’re very good in transition offense. They’re just a very solid basketball team. They’re good at a lot.”
KeVaughn Allen’s re-emergence has the Gators playing at their highest level of the season. Allen’s 31-point outburst against the Aggies propelled UF to victory and marked the Little Rock, Arkansas, native’s seventh straight double-digit scoring performance.
A noticeably more aggressive Allen is one the Gators (11-7, 3-3 SEC) need if they hope to turn the tide and secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament, implied White.
“For this team to max out, he has to continue to play like he has been playing,” White said. “I don’t know if every night you are going to get that high-level shooting percentage.”
It’s best to prepare for the worst when traveling to TCU, as the Horned Frogs have limited opponents to just 27.7 percent from behind the arc this season, good for No. 7 in NCAA Division basketball in 3-point field-goal defense.
Considering the 3-point shot helped the Gators turn a 13-point halftime deficit into a nine-point win the last time out, UF has emphasized the need to find different ways to score if it hopes to escape Fort Worth with a victory.
“When we really put more of an emphasis on some of the things we’re doing offensively now, we’ve got to continue to get better at executing that type of stuff, and become a better screening team,” White said. “We’re doing more stuff off of the ball than we’ve ever done. And we’ll continue to subtract stuff, add stuff, in terms of actions, trying to figure out what the best mix is. But we’ve got two guys in a really good offensive shooting rhythm.”
For Allen, his newfound aggression is the key to staying hot from the field — and it’s become clear the senior shooting guard is necessary to Florida’s success.
“I’ve just been aggressive and just going out there and just playing hard and playing for my teammates and for my coaches,” Allen said. “I feel like everybody can take a step, you know, towards being aggressive and just help the team out. If everybody can take a step and just do more, we’ll win more.”
What: SEC/Big 12 Challenge
Who: Florida (11-7) vs. TCU (14-4)
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Keyontae Johnson; F ; 6-5; Fr.; 6.1 ppg; 4.9 rpg
Kevarrius Hayes; C; 6-9; Sr.; 6.8 ppg; 6.3 rpg
Andrew Nembhard; G; 6-5; Fr.; 7.1 ppg; 6.1 apg
KeVaughn Allen; G ; 6-2; Sr.; 12.8 ppg ; 2.6 rpg
Noah Locke; G; 6-3; Fr.; 11.4 ppg; 2.8 3FG
Kouat Noi; F; 6-7; So.; 14.2 ppg; 4.3 rpg
JD Miller; F; 6-8; Sr.; 10.9 ppg; 6.6 rpg
Kevin Samuel; C; 6-11; RFr.; 8.0 ppg; 7.2 rpg
Desmond Bane; G; 6-5; Jr.; 14.9 ppg; 5.7 rpg
Alex Robinson; G; 6-1; Sr.; 13.3 ppg; 7.9 apg
Notes: Florida visits TCU looking to add to its 3-season win streak in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge … Florida is 4-1 all-time in the event, including 1-1 on the road … Noah Locke and KeVaughn Allen have stepped up their offensive production in SEC play. Allen has tallied 17.8 points and Locke 15.3 per game during conference action. The duo set a Florida record for 3-pointers by teammates, combining for 15 made treys (Allen 8, Locke 7) in the Gators’ win vs. Texas A&M … Allen has scored in double figures in 11 of the last 12 games, while Locke has 10+ points in 9 straight games, the longest such streak by a UF freshman since Bradley Beal (10, 2011-12) … UF leads the SEC in scoring defense (61.8; 10th nationally) and ranks 2nd in in turnover margin (+4.4) and 3-pointers made (9.4) … Kevarrius Hayes ranks No. 1 in the SEC with 3.0 offensive rebounds per game (t-42nd nationally), while KeVaughn Allen ranks 3rd in free throw percentage (.855) and 5th in steals (1.6). Andrew Nembhard ranks 4th in the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.6) and tied for 4th in assists. It’s Suites And Sneakers Week as both the TCU and Florida coaching staffs will be wearing sneakers to support Coaches Vs. Cancer in their mission to help save more lives from cancer.
— Graham Hall