Florida’s final home game of the 2018-19 season has significant implications as the Gators, in a five-way tie for fourth place in the SEC, find themselves fighting for an NCAA Tournament berth.
And after Saturday’s 61-55 home letdown against Georgia, UF men’s basketball coach Mike White hopes his team comes into the 7 p.m. tip-off today against No. 10-ranked LSU with a “terrific” mindset after a lackluster performance against the Bulldogs. The Gators will honor seniors KeVaughn Allen, Kevarrius Hayes, Jalen Hudson and Mak Krause.
In Saturday’s defeat, which marked Florida’s sixth two-possession loss this season, the Gators experienced a significant drop-off against one of the conference’s worst programs this season. White didn’t know whether to blame Florida’s noticeable lack of aggression on either the late-season fatigue or a sense of comfortability permeating throughout the program during UF’s season-high five-game winning streak.
“Everyone handles success differently. I thought Kevarrius Hayes came out and played really, really hard the other day. He was on it. He was the same guy he was in the previous five. We had a couple games in there, in that five-game stretch, where we had two or three guys that had a drop in intensity and focus level, but we were able to get away with it,” White said. “In this one (against UGA) we had a few, and we weren’t able to get away with it. Naturally, I think that leads to a better focus (Tuesday), for the most part, at least with this team. I’d be surprised if we weren’t on it today and we didn’t have edge, and if we didn’t have an edge (against LSU).”
Now in the final week of the regular season, the Gators are feeling the late-season surge in their limbs, leading White and his coaching staff to tone down the intensity level in practice sessions after games. While it may seem like a no-brainer in a sense, White admits it’s a bit of a risky venture, considering the Gators are seemingly on the fringe when it comes to the NCAA Tournament.
“You’re weighing things in your mind: doing less yesterday, physically will we be not quite as ready at the tip against LSU? Because we’ve repped these things less, will we be deficient in these couple areas? I don’t know, it’s kind of a gamble to do a little bit less. It’s a gamble to do more, too, when you go three hours and you wonder if you can muster up enough energy,” White said. “And I think that probably backfired on us a couple times mid-season where we were going long and hard and changing a lot of things that we were doing and really trying to challenge our guys, and it’s probably a factor in us folding down the stretch in a couple of those games. A factor amongst a few others, so we’ll see. If we don’t come with a ton of energy, than it was the wrong decision.”
Who: No. 10 LSU (24-5, 14-2 SEC) vs. Florida (17-12, 9-7)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Keyontae Johnson; F; 6-5; Fr;. 7.5 ppg; 5.9 rpg
Kevarrius Hayes; C; 6-9; Sr.; 7.4 ppg; 5.8 rpg
Andrew Nembhard; G; 6-5; Fr.; 8.1 ppg; 2.7 apg
KeVaughn Allen; G; 6-2; Sr.; 12.5 ppg; 2.9 rpg
Noah Locke; G; 6-3; Fr.; 10.3 ppg; 2.5 3FG
Naz Reid; F ; 6-10; Fr.; 13.5 ppg; 7.0 rpg
Kavell Bigby-Williams; F ; 6-11; Sr.; 7.9 ppg; 6.3 rpg
Tremont Waters; G ; 5-11; So.; 15.3 ppg; 5.8 apg
Skylar Mays; G ; 6-4; Jr.; 13.7 ppg; 3.2 rpg
Marlon Taylor; G; 6-5; Jr.; 7.0 ppg; 3.7 rpg
Notes: The Gators and Tigers meet for the second time in two weeks, as Florida earned its best win of the season in Baton Rouge in overtime. KeVaughn Allen scored 12 of his 21 points in the extra session to lead UF to victory. … Florida sits in a five-way tie for fourth place in the SEC entering the midweek slate of games, but the Gators shake out as the eighth seed in the current scenario due to tiebreakers. … UF leads the SEC in scoring defense (63.1; 16th nationally) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (.316). The Gators rank second in turnover margin (+3.6) and 3rd in 3-pointers made (8.4). … Florida has several players who rank among the SEC leaders: KeVaughn Allen (1st, .879 free throw percentage); Kevarrius Hayes (t-3rd, 2.7 defensive rebounds; t-5th, 1.9 blocks shots); Andrew Nembhard (4th, 2.5 A/TO ratio); and Noah Locke (3rd, .388 3-point field goal percentage; 4th, 2.5 3-pointers made).
— Graham Hall