Florida’s record-setting scoring performance in its season opener against Gardner-Webb made defense almost an afterthought.
But Florida coach Mike White is in search for improvement on both ends of the floor tonight when the Gators host North Florida.
In UF’s 116-74 win over Gardner-Webb on Monday, the Gators allowed the Bulldogs to shoot 42.4 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range.
Given the pace of the game, UF still managed to hold Gardner-Webb to .961 points per possession (the best college defenses generally sit at 0.8 ppp). But with Florida ahead comfortably and playing a lineup of mostly freshmen and newcomers, both teams spent the final 10 minutes trading baskets.
“The last nine, 10 minutes wasn’t very good at all, but also had a bunch of new guys out there, a bunch of freshmen,” Florida coach Mike White said. “A couple tough bounces of the ball that ended up in guys’ hands at point-blank or open 3s. Gave up an open 3 when Mike Okauru hit a wet spot.
“So it wasn’t quite as a bad, but still have a ways to go, of course. Offense is way in front of the defense right now. And offensively we have a lot of stuff to clean up. Certain reads we’re not making. Couple live-ball turnovers at early points. Fouling on the offensive glass. A bunch of stuff we need to look at.”
White said the biggest issue for the Gators defensively at this point is guarding the ball.
“For the most part it was a bunch of points off, ‘I’m going by you and getting a basket.’ ” White said. “Just simply guarding the basketball, we have to get a lot better at that. And it’s not just the guy guarding the basketball. We have to be on those gaps, as well. We have to wall off ballhandlers and be more aggressive with stunting at the basketball and do it collectively.”
Offensively, Florida couldn’t ask for a better debut from grad transfer senior forward Egor Koulechov, who went 11 of 17 from the field, 6 of 9 from 3-point range and 6 of 6 from the foul line to score 34 points.
White said he doesn’t expect Koulechov’s big scoring night to affect his mentality.
“He’ll be the same guy in practice today,” White said.” If he’s open, he’s gonna shoot it. How many times he’s open will depend on who gets him the ball when and where and how he’s defended. But we’ve got an equal opportunity offense, we’ll see if it leads to some scoring the next night. He knows he’s got to be great defensively for us, he’s got to be a really good rebounder for us as well. So his focus is on those things as well.”
Koulechov said communication will be the key for the Gators to make defensive strides against a UNF team that’s averaging 72.3 points per game.
“We’ve got to really trust each other when we’re communicating on screens and all that kind of stuff,” Koulechov said. “Once we take a little step there, we can focus on other areas as well.”
Who: No. 8 Florida Gators (1-0) vs. North Florida Ospreys (0-3)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: O’Connell Center/Exactech Arena, Gainesville
TV: SEC Network
Radio: AM-850, 103.7-FM
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G KeVaughn Allen, 6-2, So. 9.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg
G Jalen Hudson, 6-6, RJr., 16.0 ppg, 3.0 apg
G Egor Koulechov, 6-5, GSr., 34.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg
F Keith Stone, 6-8, RSo., 3.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg
C Kevarrius Hayes, 6-9, Jr., 7.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg
NORTH FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G J.T. Escobar, 6-2, So., 13.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg
G Ivan Gandia-Rosa, 6-1, So., 15.0 ppg, 4.3 apg
G Garrett Sams, 6-6, So., 16.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg
F Wajid Aminu, 6-7, So., 9.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg
F Noah Horchler, 6-8, So., 6.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg
Notes: Florida won its 27th straight season opener Monday night, knocking off Gardner-Webb 116-74. The 116 points were the most for the Gators in a season debut. Florida’s 15 3-pointers against Gardner-Webb also was an opening-night record. … Florida scored more than 100 points for the third time in three seasons under coach Mike White. … Egor Koulechov’s 34 points tied Tom Baxley (Dec. 1, 1962) for the most by a Florida player in a debut game. All four of UF’s scorers who reached double figures made their UF debut (Koulechov 34, transfer guard Jalen Hudson 16, freshman guard Deaundrae Ballard 14 and freshman guard Mike Okauru 13). … UNF has suffered losses at No. 2 Michigan State (98-66), at Michigan (86-66) and at VCU (95-85). The Ospreys no longer have standout guard Dallas Moore, who scored 31 points as a senior last season in UNF’s 91-60 loss to the Gators.
— Kevin Brockway