Gators have shot at statement win

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Florida senior guard KeVaughn Allen goes for two in the second half against Tennessee in the Jan. 12 game in the O'Connell Center, a 78-67 loss. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent]

Florida men’s basketball coach Mike White doesn’t anticipate a reprieve in the schedule — especially with the Gators once again set to battle the nation’s best.

UF, in search of a statement victory, tips off today at 4 p.m. in Knoxville against No.1-ranked Tennessee. On the outside looking in at 12-10, the Gators were dominated in Tuesday’s 76-62 defeat in Auburn, leading White to point out the SEC’s rise this season seemingly everywhere outside of Gainesville.

“It’s a different league than it was a year ago. Every night is very, very challenging,” White said. “You’ve got more than just a couple high-level teams. You’ve got several. And now, with the emergence of the Vols, they’re just a different program.”

The Gators are certainly a different program from the team that went 20-11 last season before falling to Texas Tech in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament, but in the dust of disappointment has emerged a promising trio of freshmen to build around. Freshmen Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson are firmly fixed in the starting rotation, yet their emergence hasn’t resulted in an ability to close out contests.

The Gators have won just one of six games decided by five or fewer points this season, and White, now in his fourth year at UF, has questioned the team’s dedication.

“Hopefully the biggest thing our guys have come to understand — and I say that, (but) I don’t think it’s quite set in yet — is your daily focus and approach and your accountability level has to be terrific when you don’t have a margin for error, especially offensively,” White said. “We’ve tried more things offensively, by far, than any team I’ve had. We’ve thrown out more defenses. A lot of it is trial and error, and we’re going to continue swinging. Until the ball stops bouncing with this team, we’re going to keep working.”

Simply working may not be enough against the Volunteers (21-1, 9-0 SEC), winners of 17 consecutive contests, including a 78-67 undoing of Florida in Gainesville on Jan. 12. Kevarrius Hayes will once again be tasked with arguably the most vital role — limiting Tennessee standout forward Grant Williams, who is averaging 20.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game this season.

It hasn’t quite set in yet, but Hayes’ regular-season games remaining at Florida is in the single digits. With just nine games remaining until the SEC Tournament, Hayes is hoping this iteration of the Gators has grown in each narrow defeat. Otherwise, Hayes may not get one more go round in the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s just playing the game all the way through the full 40 minutes. Trying to focus a lot on defense, and offense will come. We’ve got to worry about that defensive intensity throughout the entire game,” Hayes said. “We learn from each time. Each situation is definitely different. Down the stretch, it’s about staying in the moment and understanding it’s very important. We’ve had situations where we didn’t stay in the moment and we didn’t finish those games. We’ve got to understand how important it is to stay in the games the whole entire game.”


Today

Who: Florida (12-10, 4-5 SEC) vs. No. 1 Tennessee (21-1, 9-0)

When: 4 p.m.

Where: Knoxville, Tenn.

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

PROBABLE STARTERS

Florida

Keyontae Johnson; F; 6-5; Fr;. 6.8 ppg; 5.6 rpg

Kevarrius Hayes; C; 6-9; Sr.; 7.0 ppg; 6.1 rpg

Andrew Nembhard; G; 6-5; Fr.; 7.5 ppg; 5.6 apg

KeVaughn Allen; G; 6-2; Sr.; 12.9 ppg; 2.5 rpg

Noah Locke; G; 6-3; Fr.; 11.4 ppg; 2.8 3FG

Tennessee

Grant Williams; F; 6-7; Jr.; 20.1 ppg; 7.4 rpg

Kyle Alexander; F; 6-11; Sr.; 8.6 ppg; 7.3 rpg

Jordan Bone; G; 6-3; Jr.; 13.5 ppg; 6.6 apg

Lamonte Turner; G; 6-2; RJr.; 12.0 ppg; 2.1 rpg

Admiral Schofield; G; 6-6; Sr.; 16.6 ppg; 6.3 rpg

Notes: Florida plays the top-ranked team for the 18th time in team history. The Gators own 2 wins vs. a No. 1 team, defeating Duke in the 2000 NCAA Tournament and topping Ohio State in the 2007 national championship game …This marks the first time the Gators face a No. 1-ranked Tennessee team. The teams have met twice when Florida was ranked No. 1, with the Gators taking both those meetings (2/3/07; 3/15/14, SEC Tournament). Allen has scored in double figures in 15 of the last 16 games, including a career-best 11 games in a row … UF leads the SEC in scoring defense (63.4; 19th nationally) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (.318), and the Gators rank second in turnover margin (+4.0) and 3-pointers made (9.0). A win for Tennessee would mark the first time the Vols have started SEC play 10-0 since the 1976-77 season.

— Graham Hall

20 COMMENTS

  1. It won’t matter how hard and smart the Gators play against Tennessee and for the rest of the season. They don’t have a post player; Hayes tries, but has no moves, is not accurate and his hands are so weak that almost every time he goes up with the ball, or even when he is trying to get ready to go up, someone steals the ball or knocks it away from him. He is very courageous and cares a lot, but doesn’t have any offensive talent to speak of. Also, despite all of the talent the Gators have, and I do believe they have that talent, they haven’t enough experience at the critical spots. There is no Chris Ciozza and no Koulechev, nor Barry from the year before. As good as Nembhard is, he can’t take over a game, nor can Allen or Johnson or that freshman who shoots great whose name I can’t quite recall. I just can’t imagine why White and Donovan have been unable to find someone tall who knows how to score in the paint. The last one was Machlin. As hard as Young played, he really shot lousy. It seems that everyone in the SEC finds a tall man who can post up except for the Gators. There isn’t such a player in the next class either. What are they going to do on defense next year without Hayes? Maybe White can teach Bassett and Stone to play in the post, but I doubt it. Maybe Stokes, who has the right moves can improve enough to play more next year. But right now even the NIT seems doubtful.

  2. Gators have got to get to 18 wins to get in the dance. Somehow these freshman have to jell as best they can as a unit to get 6 more wins. Will have to hit everything today to have a chance. A down no answer season this year. Again, I’m not a basketball guy, but it appears we are at least two players down from where we need to be competitive?

      • I’m not so sure he’s in the “Willie Taggert over his head” zone…I mean he’s been to the tourney a few times and had a deep elite 8 run but I definitely worry about his recruiting the full compliment of players needed to be good. We lack balance. Too much backcourt talent and not enough in the front court.

  3. Is this a joke? Anybody who thinks this Gator basketball team has a chance to do anything but LOSE, LOSE, LOSE is living in a dream world. When UF hired Mike White, they pretty much announced that they’re not serious about men’s basketball.

  4. LOL “statement win.” This team is playing out the string en route to a .500 (or worse) season. #MidMajorMike continues to whine about his players and a hefty % of the fan base seems to think this is Florida Gulf Coast, where a coach comes to hone his craft. LOL.

    I’ve seen enough from this guy to know he needs to back to Conference USA.

    Next yr, there will be an exodus of season ticketholders.

  5. Sadly I don’t think we have a chance in this game. This team is not a “team”. The only “team” guy is Hayes and he’s just not all that talented on the offensive side of the court. Allen/Locke are streaky good, Hudson is a shell of his last two campaigns, Nembhard seems to be regressing, Stone is out (and also seemed to be a shell of his former self), Ballard doesn’t get enough PT, and the coaching staff appears to be inept this year. I really liked this team heading into the season but man was I wrong. I hope they give it their all today and pull off the upset, but I don’t think it is in the cards. Until we get some bigs that can play, we’ll be hoisting 3’s hoping for a big shooting day. Kind of the same team as last year but without the sharpshooting/rebounding of 3gor. Obviously we miss Cheeze’s leadership too. I’ll tune in, but I predict 16-15 at the end of the season and likely out of both the NCAA and NIT tourney’s. Hope the big recruiting haul can change things next year, but unless the team starts playing like a team it won’t make much of a difference. I put this last part on the coaching staff. It’s their job to get these guys to play as a team. I’m not completely down on White, but he needs to shake up the staff clearly.

    • I also had high hopes for this year’s team, but who expected the extreme lack of production from Hudson this year and the loss of 3 front court players and the mystery of one that were expected to really improve the depth of the inside game. To begin the season, I would’ve been shocked to see anyone other than Nembhard to be logging significant minutes of the freshmen, but they’ve had to be relied on more that expected. They’re showing to be good players, but they aren’t the one and dones that are at Duke and UK, so to expect a lot from them might be a bit much. Believe me though, had either Duke or UK, or any school for that matter had lost 3 front court players for the season that were expected to contribute, they would be having the same struggles as this team. Not to make excuses for losses that they probably could’ve and should’ve won, but just a little bit of understanding the growing pains of this season’s team. I don’t see them making the NCAA this year, even though Lunardi still has them as an 11 seed, but an NIT post-season will only help the younger guys. Will keep on rooting them on….Go Gators!!!

  6. ”UF leads the SEC in scoring defense (63.4; 19th nationally) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (.318), and the Gators rank second in turnover margin (+4.0)” -Gatorsports.com.
    And still despite all those accolades, Florida Basketball must go 17-14 overall, and a 9-9 record in the SEC play to even become a ”gnat flying around the bubble of the NCAA Tourney.” I do hope for the best, but unfortunately (through these Gators’ past experiences), I expect the worse from this team in ”big games.”
    ”Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” for ”You fail because you don’t believe.” -Yoda, the Jedi Master.

  7. gators. Players development is the problem.
    wake up and smell the coffee.
    Every player that mike white has coached has regressed from day1 .
    Mike white is not going to beat rick Barnes, John Calipari and bruce pearl.
    I hope I am wrong

  8. This is NOT a good basketball team. I coached International bball overseas for 20+ years. They will be EXTREMELY LUCKY to get an NIT bid. That said, next year they will be a heck of a lot beAItter with a 2 McDonald’s all-americans coming. And for 2020, the recruiting class is already in the Top 5. The problem with this team is (CAPTAIN OBVIOUS HERE) there is no presence in the middle, either offensively or defensively. Nembs is a freshman point guard asked to run an offense with no solid #3, 4 or 5 and a sporadic shooting guard. Nembs has a big upside and by his junior year will remind us of Chioza. Just my opinion because you never know how big-time high school players are going to adjust. NOTE: I saw Bassett play at IMG (right across from my house in Bradenton) and I think he is playing scared to play to his ability. I also think White should play a lot more up-tempo since there is no half-court offense. Also, Jalen Hudson is still on the missing players list. Maybe he’s in the European D-league and his twin brother is wearing orange and blue.