Utah State (11-2) vs. Florida (7-3)
BB&T Center, Sunrise, Florida; today, 2:30 p.m.
TV: FOX SPORTS 1. Radio: 103.7-FM
BOTTOM LINE: Two forwards will be on display as Justin Bean and Utah State will take on Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Florida. The junior Bean is averaging 12.8 points over the last five games. Blackshear, a senior, is averaging 13.6 points over the last five games.
TEAM LEADERSHIP: Florida’s Blackshear has averaged 12.7 points and 7.9 rebounds while Keyontae Johnson has put up 13.2 points and 6.4 rebounds. For the Aggies, Bean has averaged 14 points and 11.6 rebounds while Sam Merrill has put up 16.1 points and 4.7 rebounds.
BRILLIANT BLACKSHEAR JR.: Blackshear has connected on 26.1 percent of the 23 3-pointers he’s attempted and has made 4 of 14 over the last five games. He’s also converted 79.6 percent of his foul shots this season.
THREAT FROM DEEP: Utah State’s Brock Miller has attempted 87 3-pointers and connected on 31 percent of them, and is 8 for 27 over the last three games.
ASSIST DISTRIBUTION: The Aggies have recently used assists to create buckets more often than the Gators. Florida has 31 assists on 76 field goals (40.8 percent) over its past three outings while Utah State has assists on 45 of 83 field goals (54.2 percent) during its past three games.
DID YOU KNOW: Utah State is ranked second among MWC teams with an average of 79.5 points per game.
After claiming a 32-point win over Providence, the Florida men’s basketball team once again will take the court at a neutral site when it battles Utah State at 2:30 p.m. today in the Orange Bowl Classic at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
The Gators (7-3) have now won all four of their neutral site contests after an all-around performance against the Friars in which UF shot 50.9 percent from the field and connected on eight of 18 3-point attempts.
With the Gators still in search of offensive consistency from game to game, UF coach Mike White pointed to an elevated intensity level in practice as the catalyst behind Florida’s performance Tuesday in the Barclays Center.
“Backcourt was really good. It was as well as we’ve played offensively, probably led by that spark that we got from those freshmen guards. Just playing downhill with more confidence, more assurance of themselves,” White said. “And I thought it was simply a carryover from practice. We’ve seen that a lot with Ques (Glover). I thought Tre (Mann) had his best practices of the year in between those last couple games, and I was happy to see some work pay off for him.”
Following a double-digit loss at Butler, the Gators regrouped — instead of a call to arms, Florida was simply tired of lackluster preparation.
Sophomore Noah Locke, who has appeared more comfortable with his role in UF’s offense as of late, said the practices preceding Florida’s win over Providence were more aggressive in nature.
“Guys were locked in and we were competing a lot better than what we were before. Guys weren’t complaining, they just wanted to get better,” Locke said. “I guess we just got tired of being bad in practice. We just got tired of it, and we just wanted to get better.”
Now, with conference play just two weeks away, the goal for Florida is to maintain that high level of play – something undoubtedly easier said than done, yet worth acknowledging when it happens.
With much of the outside focus revolving around the highly regarded freshmen, the top-10 preseason ranking, the addition of graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. – the list goes on – it seems the play of sophomore Keyontae Johnson has slipped under the radar.
UF’s leading scorer this season, Johnson enters Florida’s contest against the Aggies (11-2, 2-0 MWC) having notched his second double-double of the season in the Gators’ win over Providence. Johnson’s play as of late is made more impressive when considering he’s dealt with a nagging injury that kept him out of those elevated practices.
As the Gators inch closer to SEC play, the goal is for Florida’s sharp-shooting backcourt to take some of the scoring load off of the frontcourt’s shoulders — another task that remains salient on White’s list.
“I thought our guards did a better job against Providence, and (Blackshear’s) got to play well, but our other bigs have to as well. And we’ve got to hold our own on the glass against these guys, which should be a tall task,” White said. “I think more than anything, the young guys, they want to find ways to stay on the court.”
“And I think they’re starting to understand that if you value the basketball and you defend at a really high level, you do your job on the glass, to help your teammates from a rebounding standpoint, you’re positive in the plus/minus. We’re playing better when they’re on the court. They’re starting to understand more that’s what helps them get minutes, as opposed to how quickly I can get a shot up, and how many I can score before coach takes me out. It’s a freshman thing, and all freshmen throughout the country, they’re all developing, you know, all these guys are developing. And our freshmen had a pretty good 10 days or two weeks, or what have you, and it carried over.”
Keyontae Johnson F 6-5 231 So. 13.2 ppg 6.4 rpg
Kerry Blackshear Jr. F 6-10 241 Gr. 12.7 ppg 7.9 rpg
Andrew Nembhard G 6-5 193 So. 10.0 ppg 5.4 apg
Noah Locke G 6-3 207 So. 8.9 ppg 2.1 3fg
Scottie Lewis G 6-5 185 Fr. 7.8 ppg 4.1 rpg
Justin Bean F 6-7 210 So. 14.0ppg 11.6 rpg
Neemias Queta C 7-0 245 So. 11.7 ppg 6.0 rpg
Sam Merrill G 6-5 205 Sr. 17.4 ppg 5.1 rpg
Abel Porter G 6-3 200 Jr. 7.2 ppg 2.7 rpg
Brock Miller G 6-5 200 So. 9.5 ppg 2.5 rpg
Notes: Florida enters Saturday’s game with wins in 5 of its past 6 games, including a dominant 83-51 win vs. Providence in Brooklyn on Tuesday. During that stretch, four of those wins are at neutral sites with three of them vs. power conference opponents … The Gators are 17-3 all-time in the Orange Bowl Classic, including a 3-1 under coach Mike White … This marks the 3rd Orange Bowl Classic meeting vs. a Mountain West team, defeating Air Force in 2012 and Fresno State in 2013 at the event … Saturday is one of 12 Florida games vs. a 2019 NCAA Tournament team during the regular season.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.