After a brief hiatus from SEC play, the Florida men’s basketball team returns to conference play Wednesday against Ole Miss at 6:30 p.m. in the Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
Fourth-year UF coach Mike White, who played on the Rebels from 1995-1999, is hoping for a much better start to this contest than the last outing in Fort Worth, Texas. In Saturday’s 55-50 defeat at TCU, the Gators came out of the gate lethargic, allowing the Horned Frogs to take a commanding 18-3 lead within the opening 10 minutes of the game. UF would claw back and tie the game at 36 with just over 12 minutes remaining in the second half, however, before TCU ultimately prevailed.
“Probably more than anything else, guys trying to do things that they’re not accustomed to doing: getting jump shots blocked, playing off one foot, trying to make something out of nothing, early turnovers more than anything that I thought rattled us offensively and set the tone for the first few minutes of the game,” White said of Florida’s start against TCU. “If it’s not one thing one game, it’s that thing the next game and it’s another thing the next game. If it’s not shot selection, sometimes it’s decisions, sometimes it’s turnovers, sometimes it’s lack of confidence. Sometimes we’re making shots, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we really execute, sometimes our execution fails us a little bit. That’s where our focus is right now in terms of ourselves in addition, obviously, to the Ole Miss Rebels.”
White said he tried to focus on the positives — including limiting TCU to just 55 points, well below the Horned Frogs’ average of 76.4 points per game — in the aftermath of UF’s most recent defeat, yet White admitted he didn’t anticipate Saturday’s early setback in the slightest.
“Did I anticipate us getting down 18-3? No, no, not at all. Not surprised we kept fighting,” White said. “I was concerned how many we could score, of course, and what we could score out of, where we could get our points. Those were concerns. I didn’t anticipate it being that rough for us at the start.”
Saturday featured another aspect that has in part led to UF’s 11-8 mark this season: the regression of Jalen Hudson.
The redshirt senior, coming off what White deemed a “dominant” practice prior to taking the court against TCU, managed just six points on 2-for-10 shooting while finishing the contest with a plus/minus of minus 9 on Saturday. Considering Hudson has just 12 games remaining in his collegiate career, White is aware time is running out when it comes to righting the ship, although the team remains cognizant of the fact Hudson could theoretically return to prior form any day.
“Jalen Hudson, he could potentially, tomorrow we’ve got Ole Miss, he might play 30 minutes and score 30 points. We’re holding out for it. We want him to play well,” White said. “The most gut-wrenching thing for me is not being able to figure it out. And the fact that we’re talking about it. And, respectfully, I’m going to answer your questions. I hate that he’s in as many headlines as he is. And I don’t read them. I’m afraid he does. He says he doesn’t, but it’s become such a big issue and naturally so. I feel for him. I really believe that he’s better than this and he believes in this. Maybe he has a great game tomorrow. I hope so.”
With just those 12 opportunities remaining, the reality of the situation has seemingly set in for the Gators: barring a late turnaround, an NCAA Tournament berth is out of the question.
“We have to pick it up if we want to make it to the NCAA Tournament. So, I feel like it’s some urgency that we have to play with for us to get there,” freshman guard Noah Locke said. “It’s all about how much we want it. That’s pretty much what it comes down to.”
Who: Ole Miss (14-5, 4-2 SEC) vs. Florida (11-8, 3-3)
When: 6:30 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Keyontae Johnson; F; 6-5; Fr.; 6.3 ppg; 5.1 rpg
Kevarrius Hayes; C; 6-9; Sr.; 6.8 ppg; 2.1 blk
Andrew Nembhard; G; 6-5; Fr.; 7.0 ppg; 5.9 apg
KeVaughn Allen; G; 6-2; Sr.; 12.7 ppg; 2.6 rpg
Noah Locke; G; 6-3; Fr.; 11.2 ppg; 2.7 3FG
Blake Hinson; F; 6-7; Fr.; 9.1 ppg; 3.2 rpg
Dominik Olejniczak; C; 7-0; Jr.; 6.6 ppg; 3.6 rpg
Devontae Shuler; G; 6-2; So.; 9.5 ppg; 3.7 rpg
Terence Davis; G; 6-4; Sr.; 15.8 ppg; 5.9 rpg
Breein Tyree; G; 6-2; Jr.; 17.3 ppg; 3.3 rpg
Notes: Gators shooting guard KeVaughn Allen has scored in double figures in 12 of the last 13 games, including a career-best eight games in a row … UF leads the SEC in scoring defense (61.5; 10th nationally), ranks 2nd in turnover margin (+4.6) and 3-pointers made (9.3) and sits 3rd in field goal percentage defense (.408) … In Florida’s win at Georgia, Keyontae Johnson, Noah Locke and Andrew Nembhard became UF’s first freshman trio to start a game since Jan. 2, 1999, when LaDarius Halton, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller all started.
— Graham Hall