No. 1 Baylor (16-1) vs. Florida (12-6), O’Connell Center, 8 p.m. today, ESPN, 103.7-FM
Regardless of whether the Gators had won or lost Tuesday at LSU, a daunting match-up with No.1 Baylor awaited Florida back in Gainesville.
While Keyontae Johnson’s shot ultimately didn’t beat the final buzzer, preserving the Tigers’ win in the process, UF coach Mike White believes his team learned from the gut-wrenching defeat – although there’s no way of knowing until the Gators tip-off against the Bears at 8 p.m. today in Exactech Arena in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
“I think there are some positives to take from that game, sure. There were a lot of things LSU did better than we did and we didn’t respond well. But the fight from this group, especially a team without a lot of experience, of course, was impressive,” White said. “The guys just continued fighting and swinging, and we left a lot of energy out there on the court, and gave ourselves a chance to make it really interesting. We were literally a split-second away from extending the game on the road with our backs against the wall. So, a lot of positives. But we have to continue to get better and clean some stuff up.”
Trailing 79-69 with just 1:20 remaining in regulation in Baton Rouge, UF managed to cut the deficit to just one point over the next 49 seconds of play, yet came up just a split-second short upon the review.
White credited Florida’s fearless shooting in the closing minutes with making the game winnable – a mentality the fifth-year UF coach acknowledged must carry over into Saturday’s match-up, and beyond.
“I think good teams just do that, you know. Good shooters have courage, and confidence, and it’s unflappable, and they’re like that whether they make five in a row or miss five in a row. The next one they think is going in,” White said. “And we want all of our shooters to become better shooters. And so hopefully that’s something that they can learn from, that when you shoot it with that mentality, where you’ve got nothing to lose, you know, it’s a good shot, so let’s just let it fly. Let’s not worry about the outcome. Let’s just stay in the moment and shoot it. Hopefully it’s another just teaching point for these guys.”
Meanwhile, the 2019-20 iteration of the Bears appear to have, on paper, learned about as much as possible in Scott Drew’s 17th season at the helm.
With just one loss on its resume – a narrow three-point defeat in Anchorage, Alaska, in the second game of the season – and less than two weeks removed from the program’s first victory at Kansas in 17 attempts, Baylor appears to have no dearth of talent across the board.
The Bears rank sixth nationally in scoring defense, have committed the 12th fewest turnovers in the country and sit just outside the top-10 when it comes to offensive rebounds per game.
“They’re terrific. Scott (Drew)’s got a really good team. They’re old, they’re deep, they’re tough, they’re versatile. They can play different ways. They can play some small ball, they can pound you on the interior. They’ve got, what may be, I’d have to do some research and maybe take a staff poll, maybe the best backcourt in the country. Got to be in the conversation, if not the best. And maybe the best offensive rebounding team in the country,” White said. “And then, they’re better defensively than they are offensively. Wow, I mean, they’re terrific. They’ve got the best resume, I would imagine, in college basketball right now. Defensively they’re versatile, they’re quick, strong, disciplined. They don’t make many mistakes, and they defend their glass.”
Florida, perhaps, might take solace in remembering the last time the Gators met one of the nation’s premier rebounding teams. In UF’s 69-47 victory over then-No. 4 Auburn, the Gators out-rebounded the Tigers by a 44-29 margin, with Kerry Blackshear Jr. leading the way with 16 boards.
With his health much improved – the grad transfer battled through a stomach virus against the Tigers – Florida will once again rely on its big man to keep Baylor off the glass – and help UF maintain its improved offensive play as of late.
“Just knowing that every possession, it’s not over until we get the ball or they get the ball, so it’s got to be a fight every possession. As soon as the shot goes up, before the shot even comes off the rim, we’ve got to be fighting and battling guys, rebounding, making every possession a battle,” Blackshear said. “And then we understand that they’re going to get some. They’re a long, athletic, really good team at that. But if we continue to make everything a battle, I think we’ll come out similar to last week, hopefully.”
Omar Payne;F;6-10;223;Fr.;5.3 ppg;4.5 rpg
Keyontae Johnson;F;6-5;231;So.;12.7 ppg;6.7 rpg
Kerry Blackshear Jr.;F;6-10;241;Gr.;14.8 ppg;8.7 rpg
Andrew Nembhard;G;6-5;193;So.;11.0 ppg;6.1 apg
Noah Locke;G;6-3;207;So.;10.5 ppg;3.0 rpg
Mark Vital;F;6-6;240;So.;11.9 ppg;8.1 rpg
Freddie Gillespie;F;6-9;245;RSr.;9.9 ppg;9.3 rpg
Jared Butler;G;6-3;190;So.;16.1 ppg;2.8 rpg
MaCio Teague;G;6-3;195;RJr.;13.6 ppg;4.8 rpg
Davion Mitchell;G;6-2;195;RSo.;9.7ppg;2.7 rpg
Notes: Florida meets the AP #1 team for the 19th time in program history, holding a 2-16 record in those games. The Gators have never won a regular season game vs. the top-ranked team (0-13), with both previous victories coming in the NCAA Tournament (2000 vs. Duke, 2007 vs. Ohio State)…This will be the 3rd straight season the Gators have played the #1 team in the nation, the first such occurrence in program history. The Gators host top-5 teams on back-to-back weekends for the 2nd time in program history, previously defeating #4 Kentucky and #4 Tennessee on Jan. 13 and 20, 1968, respectively…Prior to Mike White’s tenure, the Gators had never faced a top-ranked team other than Kentucky in regular season play. Baylor will be the 4th diff erent #1 team Florida faces now in White’s 5th regular season, the first in a home game (at Michigan State, vs. Duke in Portland, at Tennessee).