Florida is coming off its best rebounding effort of the season at South Carolina, out-rebounding the Gamecocks 46-24 while grabbing a season-high 35 defensive rebounds.
The Gators will be looking to carry over that toughness on the glass in their rematch with Georgia tonight at the O’Connell Center.
Rebounding played a key role in UF’s 72-60 loss at Georgia on Jan. 30. The Bulldogs outrebounded the Gators 44-35 in the win and outscored the Gators 16-12 in second-chance points. Georgia got to the majority of 50-50 balls while Florida was a step slow in reacting in shots off the glass.
“If we play with the same physicality and aggression and edge that we brought to Athens, we can’t beat these guys,” White said. “They’re just too good on the interior, both on the glass and scoring it and defensively. They just manhandled us on the interior in Athens. We’ve got to be much better to have a chance.”
Florida junior guard Jalen Hudson said the Gators begin practices with a circle block out drill that requires players to focus on rebounding.
“Basically it’s like you’re rotating and you have to find a different guy to block out, so everybody has to block out the biggest guy sometimes,” Hudson said. “I really feel like that’s been helping us. So just to continue to do that and put an emphasis on it.”
The chief concern for the Gators inside is 6-foot-8, 240-pound Georgia senior forward Yante Maten, who finished with 20 points and seven rebounds against the Gators last month. Maten, an SEC player of the year candidate, leads the conference in scoring (19.4 ppg) and ranks third in rebounding (8.7 rpg).
But the Gators also were burned by Georgia’s backcourt. Point guard William Jackson III had 16 points, while senior guard Juwan Parker had 12 points.
“We put a big emphasis on guarding Yante Maten, so much of an emphasis that we let their guards kind of get free and do whatever they want,” Hudson said.
Florida was able to guard the interior and perimeter effectively in their 65-41 win over South Carolina on Saturday. The Gators have shown better focus on defense in their recent back-to-back wins, giving up an average of 52.5 points while holding opponents to 36.1 percent shooting from the floor. But White isn’t prepared to declare the Gators have turned the corner defensively yet.
“If we can string together three, four, five, six of these games where we’re playing at a really, really high level of intensity and focus and togetherness — whether you win or not — I’ll feel more confident moving forward that we’ve matured and we’ve grown,” White said. “That’s the hope right now.”
Offensively, the Gators have shown more of a willingness to share the basketball and rely on one another. All 10 players who appeared in the game scored in UF’s win over South Carolina, while the Gators recorded 14 assists in the LSU win.
“At times this team’s focus has been, how many am I scoring, how many shots am I getting, how many minutes am I going to play?” White said. “We’ve had some selfishness that we’ve had to deal with this year, again, great guys, but we’ve had some guys whose identity rested on offense as much as anything and individual accolades, I think a little bit too much. The last two games, we were locked in on doing our job for the team and just again, we hope that continues.”
FREE THROWS: White said that despite senior John Egbunu’s timetable being pushed back from ACL rehab, he hasn’t discussed the possibility of the 6-foot-11 center red-shirting this season and applying to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility. Egbunu had his surgically repaired knee re-evaluated Monday and has decided to continue his rehab in hopes of returning this season. “He and Duke (trainer Dave Werner) are I guess together now and are trying to gather more and more information where it stands,” White said. “I think John is really eager to help this team any way he can. He’s getting really antsy. That’s what we’re focused on right now.” … White on Hudson’s move into the starting lineup and junior guard KeVaughn Allen going to the bench: “It wasn’t a size decision, it wasn’t an offense to defense decision, it was KeVaughn made that decision just by being a couple of minutes late to shoot-around. We played really well. And you guys know how we roll, if we play really well, why change it? So against LSU, that’s the way we went. We continued it last go-around. I think KeVaughn has handled it great. KeVaughn knows he’s a starter, he just happens to not be starting right now.” A preseason All-SEC first-team selection, Allen has been unable to get on track offensively this season, averaging 11 ppg while shooting 31.8 percent from 3-point range. Last season, Allen averaged 14 ppg and shot 37 percent from beyond the arc.
Who: Florida Gators (17-8, 8-4 SEC) vs. Georgia Bulldogs (13-11, 4-8 SEC)
When: 9 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center, Gainesville
TV: SEC Network
Radio: AM-850, 103.7-FM
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Jalen Hudson;6-6;RJr.;15.7 ppg; 4.1 rpg
G Chris Chiozza;6-0; Sr.;11.9 ppg;5.9 apg
G Egor Koulechov;6-5; GSr.;14.0 ppg;6.9 rpg
F Keith Stone;6-8; RSo.;8.2 ppg;3.9 rpg
C Kevarrius Hayes;6-9; Jr.;5.3 ppg;5.1 rpg
GEORGIA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Juwan Parker;6-4;Sr.;8.7 ppg;3.4 rpg
G William Jackson III;6-4;Jr.;9.1 ppg;3.7 apg
F Rayshaun Hammonds;6-8;Fr.;6.1 ppg;4.9 rpg
F Derek Ogbeide;6-8;Jr.;7.1 pts;5.3 reb
F Yante Maten;6-9;Jr.;19.1 ppg;8.1 rpg
Notes: Florida is 113-101 all-time against Georgia and 63-36 at home. The Gators have won 14 in a row at the O’Connell Center against Georgia. The last time UF lost to Georgia at the O’Dome was Jan. 19, 2002 (84-79). …. Florida leads the SEC in turnover margin (plus-4.-) while ranking second in 3-pointers per game (9.1). … The top three free throw shooters in the SEC are on UF’s roster. Forward Egor Koulechov leads the league in free throw shooting at 91.2 percent, followed by KeVaughn Allen (second) at 91.2 percent and Chris Chiozza (third) at 87.3 percent. … Chiozza leads the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.2-1), while ranking second in the league in steals (2.0 spg) and third in assists (5.9 apg). … Florida is averaging 19.5 bench points over its last two games. Redshirt freshman forward Dontay Bassett grabbed a career-high 7 rebounds off the bench in UF’s 65-41 win over South Carolina on Saturday. … On the perimeter, Florida remains in a cold stretch, shooting just 29.6 percent from 3-point range (24-81) over its last four games. … Georgia has lost three in a row since knocking off Florida 72-60 on Jan. 30. After holding the Gators to 60 points, the Bulldogs have given up an average of 77 points over their last three games. . … Georgia is plus-5.1 on the season in rebounding margin, compared to UF’s -0.8.
— Kevin Brockway
UPDATED: 12:50 p.m.