The first half of Saturday’s 84-66 win over Vanderbilt saw the Gators play at such a dominant level that much of the second half seemed almost like an afterthought.
Florida took a 29-point lead into halftime, and at one point led by as much as 32 with just over 10 minutes of play remaining, and the win looked all but official.
Yet, in a moral victory of sorts, the Commodores managed to outscore Florida 32-18 over the final 10:33 to make the outcome appear closer than it should have been in the eyes of coach Mike White.
With the Gators set to face a more defensive-minded program at 7 tonight when they tip off against Arkansas, White hopes UF inches closer to playing consistently for 40 minutes rather than, say, 29:27.
“Yeah I thought we lost a little bit of defensive edge. I thought we took a few ‘my turn’ shots for the first time in two or three games. We reverted in that regard (and) didn’t move quite as well in the second half,” White said. “Still had a few really good possessions, but just weren’t quite as sharp. I thought we played a little bit emotional, and I think there were some obvious reasons for that, and then you’re fighting human nature, too.”
Considering Florida had become more accustomed to trailing by double digits rather than leading by a large margin, White had sensed an emotional letdown was possible, if not likely; he made a preemptive change, he said, opting to scratch their usual post-first half review session with the coaching staff in favor of a team-wide meeting to discuss the importance of maintaining the edge.
“We knew at halftime, it was the first time this team had gone in at half with a significant lead all year, definitely in that neighborhood, that type of lead. So we were cognizant that that was the potential in the second half. We went right at them at halftime. In fact, we skipped our staff meeting before we met with our guys, knowing ‘hey, let’s address this right now’. To no avail,” White said. “But, that was the first time we had gone through that, so hopefully next time – hopefully there is another time where we have a significant lead at halftime. Hopefully we handle it better.”
Although past results aren’t indicative of future success, the Gators have history on their side when it comes to handling both a visiting Arkansas (16-9, 4-8 SEC) team and coach Eric Musselman, too.
For one, the Razorbacks haven’t won in Gainesville since claiming a 94-85 victory Feb. 28, 1995. While that certainly will have no bearing on tonight’s outcome – Arkansas ranks No. 1 in the nation in defending the 3-point line, which is no small feat – the lessons the Gators learned the last time they faced a Musselman-coached team may, in fact, positively impact the preparation – although White did make sure to add that Arkansas’ most recent performances are far more pertinent.
The Gators downed Nevada, 70-61, in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament, a contest that ultimately marked Musselman’s final game with the Wolfpack before taking the Arkansas gig.
For Florida (16-9, 8-4 SEC) to continue boosting its tournament resume, they’ll once again have to defeat a Musselman-coached program – only this time it’s in league play, against a team with its own postseason aspirations, in a season that’s been anything but predictable.
“He had a big-time run there of course, and we were really fortunate to hold those guys off in the NCAA Tournament, it was a great college basketball game. And he’s doing some similar stuff, but you know, on game day tomorrow, when you’ve just got a bunch of time – we might go back and watch some of that again just for the heck of it – but we’ve been really focused on our current team and his current team,” White said. “It’s a completely different deal for him, and for us. We’re a completely different team.”
Keyontae Johnson;F;6-5;231;So.;13.2 ppg;6.8 rpg
Kerry Blackshear Jr.;F;6-10;241;Gr.;13.6 ppg;7.7 rpg
Andrew Nembhard;G;6-5;193;So.;11.7 ppg;2.8 apg
Noah Locke;G;6-3;207;So.;10.8 ppg;2.6 rpg
Scottie Lewis;G;6-5;185;Fr.;8.1 ppg;4.0 rpg
Adrio Bailey;F;6-6;217;Sr.;6.6 ppg;4.5 rpg
Reggie Chaney;F;6-8;222;So.;5.1 ppg;4.1 rpg
Desi Sills;G;6-1;196;So.;10.1 ppg;2.9 rpg
Mason Jones.;G;6-5;200;Jr.;20.8 ppg;6.0 rpg
Jimmy Whitt Jr.;G;6-3;175;Gr.;14.6ppg;4.8 rpg
Notes: Florida and Arkansas square off in their only meeting of the regular season, with the Gators coming in winners of two straight and four of the last 5. Noah Locke caught fire in last week’s contests, shooting 11-for-18 from 3-point range in the wins vs. Texas A&M and Vanderbilt … The Gators have had success against the Razorbacks under Mike White, posting a 7-1 mark with the only loss coming in the 2018 SEC Tournament. As the Gators enter a critical stretch of the regular season, a reminder that Florida is one of 10 teams in the nation that has advanced in each of the past three NCAA Tournaments. The Gators’ three straight NCAA Tournament bids is the third-longest streak in Florida history