Florida has endured a rocky first week of December, losing a pair of home games to unranked teams.
Gone are the feelings of invincibility that came with a 5-0 start and taking No. 1 Duke to the wire before falling in the finals of the PK80 Tournament.
The No. 5 Gators will find themselves tumbling down the rankings, if not out of the Top 25 completely, after back-to-back losses to Florida State and Loyola-Chicago. But Florida can salvage something positive out of its recent struggles if it can summon the resolve to beat No. 17 Cincinnati today at the Never Forget Tribute Classic in Newark, N.J.
“We’ve lost two basketball games,” White said. “We’ve got to grow up and get better. We’ve got to make a shot. We’ve got to get some stops. We’ve played eight games. We are guaranteed, I think, 24 are left. Twenty-five percent of the season. We could win the next 24. We could go 10-14.”
White said he’s curious to see if his team is built to handle adversity.
“This is a grind,” White said. “Again, none of it has been shocking. We’re just a very average defensive and rebounding team, and when we’re not making shots, it’s hard to beat anybody.”
Florida junior guard Jalen Hudson said the Gators have to get back to basics and bring more consistent effort.
“It’s on every single person in this organization,” Hudson said. “Everybody has to bring more, more energy, more talk. Obviously we thought we were on our way to something and we don’t know where it fell apart. We’ve got to go back to the beginning in order to build the foundation for the beginning right now.”
Like Florida State, Cincinnati will present problems for the Gators inside. Senior power forward Gary Clark (6-foot-8, 225 pounds) is Cincinnati’s leading scorer at 13.8 points per game, while senior center Kyle Washington (6-9, 230) is another physical presence down low.
“We’ve got to defend that hard and make, obviously, less mental mistakes, make shooters drive it, contain drives and be way better on the defensive interior,” White said. “We have to find a way to do that, and maybe change some things we’re doing defensively, schematically, to put these guys in a better position.”
The Bearcats also will pressure UF’s guards throughout the game. Cincinnati is forcing 17.1 turnovers per game. Florida has been efficient taking care of the ball for most of the season, but has been more sloppy of late, with 25 turnovers over its last two games.
Florida players spent Friday touring the 9-11 Memorial in New York City. The Never Forget Tribute Classic benefits the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund, which supports the education of children of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Seton Hall and VCU will play the first game of the doubleheader at 3 p.m., followed by Florida and Cincinnati.
Florida is hopeful a change of scenery will help it snap out of the shooting slump. The Gators are just 8 of their last 47 from 3-point range.
“Making shots masks a lot of things,” White said. “As we’ve told our guys since the first day of practice, we’ve got to be good enough to win games and be competitive against good teams when you’re not making shots. It’s never as bad as it seems.”
Who: No. 5 Florida Gators (5-3) vs. No. 17 Cincinnati Bearcats (7-1)
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G KeVaughn Allen 6-2 So., 13.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg
G Chris Chiozza 6-0 Sr., 11.4 ppg,6.3 apg
G Egor Koulechov 6-5 GSr., 15.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg
G Jalen Hudson 6-6 RJr.,19.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg
C Kevarrius Hayes 6-9, Jr. 4.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg
CINCINNATI PROBABLE STARTERS
G Jarron Cumberland 6-5 So., 11.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg
G Justin Jenifer 5-10 Jr., 7.8 ppg, 2.9 apg
G Jacob Evans 6-6 Jr. 13.1 ppg, 4.0 apg
F Gary Clark 6-8 Sr.. 13.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg
F Kyle Washington 6-9 Sr., 9.1 ppg 5.1 rpg
Notes: This is the first-ever meeting between Florida and Cincinnati. … The Gators remain the highest scoring offense in the SEC at 90.2 points per game despite its recent offensive funk. Florida also leads the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.6-1. … Point guard Chris Chiozza is leading the SEC in assists at 6.1 per game and ranks ninth on UF’s all-time career assist list at 412. Chiozza is seven assists shy of passing Scottie Wilbekin for 8th in UF’s all-time assist list. … Florida is 2-1 in neutral court games this season and 1-1 against ranked teams, with a win over No. 12 Gonzaga and a loss to No. 1 Duke. … Florida freshman 6-5 swingman Deaundrae Ballard made his first career start against Loyola-Chicago and is averaging 8.1 points and 3.0 rebounds. … Florida coach Mike White has used six different starting lineups in eight games this season. … Cincinnati is coming off its first loss of the season, falling 89-78 to crosstown rival Xavier. … The Bearcats boast a deep player rotation, with 10 different players averaging double-figures in minutes.
— Kevin Brockway