Mike White didn’t mince words following Florida’s 71-69 collapse Saturday night against South Carolina at the O’Connell Center: the defense was a shell of itself from a week prior.
In that previous contest, a 77-43 dismantling of Butler on Dec. 29, the Gators consistently forced the Bulldogs into contested shots and poor possessions in winning their fifth game in six contests.
In the SEC opener, however, the Gators could only watch as a 14-point lead became a two-point defeat over the final 12 minutes.
“Those guys in that locker room with that Gator jersey, they put on a defensive clinic seven days ago. That wasn’t the same defense, and that was what was feared all week,” White said. “That’s what’s frustrating, because beating South Carolina would have been a very big win.”
Repeatedly, Florida took a double-digit lead, only to see the Gamecocks come storming back. Each time, it appeared as if UF would run away with the result, yet critical trips down the court often resulted in zilch on the scoreboard.
And even when the defense was able to force turnovers — the Gamecocks committed 22 of them to UF’s 15 — the Gators struggled to convert down the stretch. After scoring 19 of their 36 points in the first half off of turnovers, the Gators managed just seven points in the second half off of USC’s miscues.
In retrospect, UF freshman shooting guard Noah Locke chalked it up to an issue that has plagued the Gators throughout the 8-5 start to the 2018-19 campaign.
“I feel like we weren’t playing as aggressive as we should have been,” Locke said. “If we had been more aggressive, we could have been much better.”
Florida’s flaws were more apparent on the final possession. Senior Gamecocks forward Chris Silva may have used his hands to create separation, and he may have shuffled his feet, too, but White said it might not have come to that if UF’s defense had been in proper position.
“We were supposed to be running press, in man-to-man press. We were supposed to have a guy on (the ball), yeah,” White said. “We thought they were preparing for the zone press we had played the whole game. Unfortunately it was the wrong call.”
In all, as the Gators once again let a double-digit lead decay down the stretch, White said he was no longer surprised — just disappointed, considering the apparent progress just a week prior.
“Our defensive effort wasn’t the same as it’s been. I thought that we felt too good about ourselves all week, I said it to our guys every day,” White said. “We didn’t have a lot of maturity this week after coming off the performance we played against Butler. Didn’t get better this week. South Carolina out-prepared us, out-fought us, out-disciplined us.”
Who: Florida (8-5, 0-1 SEC) vs. Arkansas (10-3, 1-0)
When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville, Ark.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850