Two reeling teams meet in O’Connell Center

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Florida senior center Kevarrius Hayes dives for the ball ahead of Tennessee guard Jordan Bone (0) during the second half Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 73-61. [Wade Payne/Associated Press]

Florida followed up a three-game winning streak in conference play with three double-digit losses, with the most recent coming last Saturday in Knoxville against top-ranked Tennessee.

Now, looking to right the ship and avoid an NCAA Tournament snub, the Gators return home for a 9 p.m. Wednesday bout with Vanderbilt (9-14, 0-10).

The mid-week match-up should offer the Gators a realistic opportunity to get back in the winning column, as the Commodores enter the Exactech Arena in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center mired in the worst stretch in 34 years. Winless in conference play, Bryce Drew’s ’Dores most recently suffered a 77-67 defeat at the hands of Avery Johnson’s Alabama squad just a day after former Vanderbilt vice chancellor and athletics director David Williams died unexpectedly at 71.

The Commodores are reeling and winless in 2019, yet the message doesn’t change for the Gators. At 12-11, fighting to extend the season, the Gators can’t let up regardless of the perceived inferiority of the opponent.

“You can say it until you’re blue in the face: they’re much better than 0-10. Coach Drew’s really good, his staff’s really good, they have a lot of talent, they’ve come up on the short end a few times, it could have easily gone the other way, just like us. Our guys will find that out in the first few minutes of the game, if they’re not already convinced,” UF coach Mike White said. “Vandy has gotten the better of the Gators the last few years.”

For Florida to turn the tide and essentially save what has been a disappointing fourth year under White, the Gators (4-6 SEC) will need to either win a majority of the remaining eight games on the schedule or emerge victorious in the SEC Tournament in order to book a return trip to the The Big Dance. Either outcome will require the Gators to be at full force for the remainder of the season.

“Our culture hasn’t been where it’s been in the past. The aura, the bench aura, the locker room aura? We’ve had our struggles this year. We’re not getting a lot of production from our bench. They’ve been challenged for a while,” White said. “I will say (Monday) was our best practice in about a month. I don’t know how much of a factor that will have tomorrow, or even today. The goal is, ‘Now, let’s have another really good one.’ But good teams have that most days. Great teams have it every day.”

It hasn’t been the final go-round that he envisioned when deciding to return to the University of Florida, but Jalen Hudson was still on a high after his 15-point performance against the Volunteers. White deemed him “the best player on the floor” during Monday’s session, and Hudson said prior to Tuesday’s practice that he feels he has a better understanding of what caused the steep drop-off in offensive production to begin the season. If the Gators hope to avoid disappointment against the ’Dores, they’ll likely need Hudson to stay hot.

“Some of these things you don’t expect, especially in your last year, but I’m just trying to fight through it. Adversity, it’s pretty much how you handle it,” Hudson said. “It’s kind of been a lot of things. Some off the court, some on the court, but I do feel like I have a handle on it now. (I’ve) been playing a little bit better as of late, just trying to keep that rolling and play with consistency, and even continue to get better as well.”


Today

Who: Vanderbilt (0-10, 9-14) vs. Florida (12-11, 4-6)

When: 9 p.m.

Where: O’Connell Center

TV: ESPNU

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

PROJECTED STARTERS

Florida

Keyontae Johnson; F; 6-5; Fr;. 6.8 ppg; 5.5 rpg

Kevarrius Hayes; C; 6-9; Sr.; 7.0 ppg; 6.2 rpg

Andrew Nembhard; G; 6-5; Fr.; 7.3 ppg; 5.6 apg

KeVaughn Allen; G; 6-2; Sr.; 12.8 ppg; 2.7 rpg

Noah Locke; G; 6-3; Fr.; 11.6 ppg; 2.9 3FG

Vanderbilt

Simisola Shittu; F; 6-10; Fr.; 12.0 ppg; 7.0 rpg

Clevon Brown; F; 6-8; Jr.; 3.3 ppg; 2.6 rpg

Aaron Nesmith; F; 6-6; Fr.; 10.3 ppg; 5.5 rpg

Matt Ryan; F; 6-8; RJr.; 9.0 ppg; 2.7 rpg

Saben Lee; G; 6-2; So.; 13.9 ppg; 3.5 rpg

Notes: Florida and UConn agreed to a home-and-home series over the following two seasons, beginning in Connecticut on Nov. 17, 2019, and wrapping up in Gainesville in the 2020-21 season. The Gators also will visit Butler and host Florida State during next season’s non-conference schedule. Florida and UConn also both have a spot in next season’s Charleston Classic, along with Miami, Missouri State, Penn State, Saint Joseph’s, Towson and Xavier. … Florida and Vanderbilt meet for the first of two regular-season meetings over the next two weeks, as the Gators look to snap a three-game slide and the Commodores seek their first SEC win. … KeVaughn Allen and Noah Locke have stepped up their offensive output in SEC play. Allen has tallied 16 points and Locke 14.7 per game during conference action, ranking 8th and 16th in the conference, respectively. … Vanderbilt (9-14, 0-10) comes into Gainesville in the midst of the program’s longest skid in 34 years at 11 straight, and the team’s latest loss came a day after former athletic director David Williams died unexpectedly.

— Graham Hall

3 COMMENTS

  1. Love to win. Who doesn’t? But I don’t think beating Vandy is going to excite me all that much, but maybe it will be a start toward finishing strong. It will be horribly disheartening, though, if we come out flat and give the ‘Dores their first SEC victory on our own floor.

  2. I think we will win but I’m not going to say it’s in the bag either. This season has been one of the hardest to watch in quite some time for me. I just don’t like our game that much, to many threes and not enough easy baskets. We should be able to D up and hold them to under 60 which would give us a good shot at winning this one. Lose this one and it’s just about over for us.

    • JIM–VERY GOOD POINTS. Serious offensive challenges on the court make them impossible to watch and I can’t think of any offensive system that would work with consistency since there is no offensive consistency. Transition game could work if there was a solid catch-and-shoot 3pt player, but there isn’t. Nobody who can dribble-drive to the basket and kick-out or make a layup. And no top rebounder. I think this team will be lucky to get an NIT bid. Lose against Vandy and that’s questionable. So many question marks. If you start 3 guards, one of them should be able to hit 45% from 3 pt. land and should have a double screen or an overload to get him open. Alas, that player was supposed to be Hudson but he’s been AWOL since the Bahamas. I will now shut up because I can’t figure out what this team should or can do with the ball.