Gators focusing on the positives

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Florida coach Mike White and the bench look on at play against TCU in the second half Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

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.”


Today

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

PROJECTED STARTERS

Florida

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

Ole Miss

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

9 COMMENTS

  1. ”…freshman guard Noah Locke said. ‘It’s all about how much we want it. That’s pretty much what it comes down to.’ ” -Gatorsports.com. And that quote should be the catalyst for positive change for the rest of this season. The cream rises to the top, so it’s time to start rising Gators. And all of you please, freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors! The Gators’ NCAA Tourney hopes are at a do or die point.
    So, ”Go Gators! Just do it!”

  2. I feel bad for Hudson, but I’m afraid his biggest problem is that he’s just not as good a shooter from 3-point range as last season would suggest. Last season, when he was hitting 3’s, it seemed nobody could stop him from getting to the rim when he wanted to, although finishing was another matter. Without the threat of the 3, his defender can sag off him and make it difficult to drive. His defense was, and still is, suspect, but he has the size and athleticism to be a great defender, so I think it’s more a matter of “want to”. He just won’t get minutes if his offensive game disappears and he can’t/won’t play D. Unless he figures something out quick, he may not even get an opportunity to play overseas.

  3. I know Coach White does not like to make excuses but to be frank the deck is stacked against him this year. The Gators just have no low post players that can score and are forced to play small ball and be a perimeter team. They live by three and die by the three. Numbers were already bad enough before Chase Johnson quit and then when Keith Stone got hurt that pretty much sealed the deal. Hayes is the only true post player they have left and he tries hard but is just not a scorer. Why Stokes is not playing I don’t know but I am sure there is a good reason be it another injury, conditioning, lack of effort in practice who knows. It looks like Gak is not ever going to be back either. Gators have some good players coming in next year but alas only one (Payne) is a post player. Scottie Lewis will be great and plays bigger than he is but they just have to get some post players to come in. As far as I am concern of Stokes and Gak cannot play then it is time to cut them loose and move on and try to rebuild the program. As far as Jalen Hudson is concerned I have no idea why his confidence level had dropped off so much from last year. Some times though I think Coach White needs to let him play more minutes and see if he can get his stroke back. I don’t think there is any way they are making the NCAA tournament this year and will be lucky to make the NIT if they don’t show some guts for the remainder of what’s left if this season. Who knows though they could always pull off a shocker and win the SEC tournament and get in. I am an eternal optimist.

  4. All these comments before the game and no comments after. Guys, we do not want to be like University of Miami fans who only come out of the hole when they are winning. Our basketball team is not an experienced team based on the fact that three starters are freshmen. I am not expecting much from them this year but I remain hopeful. It is next year when we are going to see a vastly improved team and then add the 2019 recruiting class… the future looks bright for our basketball Gators!

    • I get your point, 72, but there are about twice as many comments on the game article than here at the time of this post. Unfortunately, losses seem to bring out more posters than victories. I agree that next year’s team will be improved, but they’ll need some help inside. I’m hopeful that Gak, Stokes, and Stone can get healthy and contribute, and that Payne will provide the offensive presence at the 5 spot that has been lacking since Egbunu went down in February, 2017. Even he wasn’t a great scorer, but he was a presence. Any kind of consistent scoring in the post would be a big help.

  5. Some people by nature are pessimistic. I am with the others that see the potential of this young team.

    When the shots drop all things are possible in hoops. There’s are a lot of minutes and drama left to play out this season. Kevaughn is finding his place and shot. I think Jalen is soon to follow. Enjoy the ride and always, Go Gators!