Florida, Butler in rematch at O’Dome

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Florida men's basketball coach Mike White. [The Associated Press]

Florida’s final tune-up before opening SEC play Jan. 5 will be against a familiar opponent.

The Gators men’s basketball team will host Butler at 4 p.m. in the Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center today, giving Mike White and Co. an opportunity to avenge a 61-54 loss to the Bulldogs a mere 36 days ago.

Saturday’s showdown marks just the first time since the 1993-94 season that the Gators have faced a non-conference opponent twice in the regular season, and the rematch seemingly couldn’t come at a better time for the Gators (7-4).

Since falling to Butler in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, the Gators have won four of five contests while averaging 73.4 points per game.

But that doesn’t mean the Gators have started clicking on offense — quite the contrary, as White has looked for ways to alter the offensive game plan during a frustrating start to the 2018-19 campaign.

“Every time down the court, we’re calling something different. Again, just searching, trying to figure out how to score. And I’ve never been big on that. I think that plays into a lack of momentum at times, a lack of just playing with instincts and playing downhill. We’re already a not-overly-confident offensive team, but that can change pretty quickly,” White said prior to Florida’s 77-56 win over Florida Gulf Coast on Dec. 22. “I want guys to play with freedom and confidence. We haven’t been playing that way, so we’re trying to give them a little more structure right now. But again, that can change. We’re evaluating it on a fly.”

The Gators will also look to get back the Jalen Hudson who showed up against the Eagles in the Orange Bowl Classic. Hudson provided 14 points, including four 3-pointers, and six rebounds in what ultimately was the senior forward’s most productive contest of what has been a disappointing conclusion to his collegiate career.

After Hudson flirted with the NBA draft before deciding to return to Florida, White said he would continue to treat professionally minded players the same way.

“I’m not sure there’s an exact science to it. Just continue to have a great relationship with your guys. Communicate with them openly, honestly and consistently. On a daily basis we communicate with these guys,” White said. “We had a guy in Jalen who decided to come back, and we continue to coach him the same way every day. We coach him the same way we coached him last year. He’s got more information now that he got at the highest level, in addition to the information we’ll give him every day. So, that’s the way we’ll approach it every Spring.”

While Hudson has seemingly helped right the course, the Gators lost a bit of depth in the frontcourt when redshirt freshman Chase Johnson announced Thursday his intentions to transfer from the program. The Ripley, West Virginia, native missed the contest against the Eagles with an illness before making the decision with his family to transfer from the program during the week away.

“We wish Chase nothing but the best and will support him however we can as he moves on from Florida,” White said in a statement.


Today

Who: Butler (9-3) vs. Florida (7-4)

When: 4 p.m.

Where: O’Connell Center

TV: ESPNU

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM

PROJECTED STARTERS

FLORIDA

Keith Stone; F; 6-8; Jr.; 7.2 ppg; 4.7 rpg

Kevarrius Hayes; C; 6-9; Sr.; 7.7 ppg; 6.7 rpg

Andrew Nembhard; G; 6-5; Fr.; 7.4; ppg; 6.0 apg

KeVaughn Allen; G; 6-2; Sr.; 10.3 ppg; 2.5 rpg

Noah Locke; G; 6-3; Fr.; 9.2 ppg ;1.8 rpg

BUTLER

Sean McDermott; F; 6-6; RJr.; 11.6 ppg; 2.8 rpg

Nate Fowler; C; 6-10; Sr.; 5.3 ppg; 4.2 rpg

Aaron Thompson; G; 6-2 ;So.; 6.7 ppg; 4.8 apg

Kamar Baldwin; G; 6-1; Jr.; 16.2 ppg; 5.3 rpg

Paul Jorgensen; G; 6-2; RSr.; 15.3 ppg; 4.2 rpg

Notes: Florida and Butler meet just 36 days after squaring off at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament … Saturday’s contest will mark the first game between the teams to be played at one school’s home court, as all 3 meetings prior to November’s game came in the NCAA Tournament … It also marks the first time since the 1993-94 season (USF) that the Gators will face a non-conference opponent twice in the regular season … The Gators faced UConn twice in the 2013-14 season — once in the regular season and once in the NCAA Tournament … Florida enters the day with wins in 4 of their last 5 games since the loss against the Bulldogs … UF leads the SEC in scoring defense (61.4), ranks 2nd in turnover margin (+5.2) and sits at 3rd in steals (8.7) and 3-point defense (.305) … Freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard is among the SEC leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio (2nd, 3.1) and assists per game (5th, 6.0), while senior KeVaughn Allen’s 1.8 steals per game and freshman Noah Locke’s .441 3-point field goal percentage both rank 3rd in the SEC.

— Graham Hall

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