Final home push: Gators still fighting for NCAA Tournament invite

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Kevarrius Hayes (13), left to right, KeVaughn Allen (5) and Jalen Hudson (3) are three seniors on the University of Florida basketball team. [Brad McClenny/ The Gainesville Sun]

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.”


Today

Who: No. 10 LSU (24-5, 14-2 SEC) vs. Florida (17-12, 9-7)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: O’Connell Center

TV: ESPN2

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

PROJECTED STARTERS

Florida

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

LSU

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

6 COMMENTS

      • I think that’s the result of the re-alignment a few years back when divisional play was discontinued. UF and UK were named as permanent opponents (or similar designation) meaning a home-and-home set every season. Not sure if teams have more that one permanent opponent, but I know that each team plays five home-and-home sets, for 10 games, and then each of the other 8 teams in single games with half at home and half on the road. I suppose we (Gators) were chosen as UK’s permanent opponent, because we’re the closest competition they’ve had in recent history.

        • Yep, that sounds familiar. A couple of UK games I saw at the O’Dome back in the day were wins. 1984: Eugene McDowell dominated the “Twin Towers” Sam Bowie and Mel Turpin, not to mention Kenny “Sky” Walker, and McDowell was supported by Ronnie Williams and Vernon Delancy in the 69 – 57 victory, and UK was never really in it after the first few minutes. Bowie dunked, and I swear his hand was above the backboard before slamming it down, but it didn’t last. My other favorite in attendance win was during a 3-game winning streak in 87-88 when we had Maxwell, Moten, Schintzius, and Livingston Chatman, among others. But I have seriously digressed. C’mon 2019 Gators! Get up and GO!