After picking up a season-high fifth consecutive win, the Florida men’s basketball team returns for its penultimate home contest, an 8:30 p.m. today bout with Georgia.
The Bulldogs have won just a lone conference game, although coach Tom Crean’s first season in Athens has been a competitive one despite what the record indicates.
After falling 83-79 to LSU on Feb. 16, UGA has seen its last three games decided by a combined five points as the ’Dawgs (10-18, 1-14 SEC) dropped a trio of conference contests by a lone possession.
Prior to Wednesday’s 78-75 loss to Auburn, Crean’s squad was on the wrong end of a controversial finish against Mississippi State, followed by another one-point loss to Ole Miss several days later.
As UF coach Mike White knows all too well, that’s simply what comes with playing in a conference that could see as many as 10 teams invited to the NCAA Tournament.
“They’ve been so competitive. Four games in a row, I believe, against four NCAA tournament teams coming down to one possession. They could have won the last four and be as hot as anybody in our league. They’re right there. They’re versatile, they score in a variety of ways, they’ve progressed offensively and defensively,” White said. “We’ll have to play well. Our approach, again, will have to be correct to have a shot to beat an SEC team.”
Florida’s approach hasn’t been better than it has been over the past two weeks of action, resulting in the program’s longest winning streak since the Gators captured eight consecutive contests in the 2016-17 season.
With Florida’s postseason destination in limbo prior to the current stretch, many deemed the Gators unfit of making the NCAA Tournament, leading White to reinforce the notion the team should resist even acknowledging opinions outside the confines of UF’s basketball complex.
When it comes to this particular iteration of the Gators, White believes external perception can be detrimental to the team’s success.
“I think there are certain teams that can have average focus and have success — we can’t. And so, we just want to focus on the next play, on the next moment, on this moment,” White said. “And that’s it — we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves.”
With just three games remaining in the regular season, the time for looking ahead will arrive sooner rather than later — although, when it comes to the team continuing to play confidently and at a high level, White would prefer the team reflect on the trials of the season to date.
“I just think we kind of got a renewed spirit there after we were able to win a couple close ones,” White said. “Felt a little bit better about ourselves, riding a little bit of momentum now, and now it’s about maintaining that and not taking a step backwards with our approach.”
Who: Georgia (10-18, 1-14 SEC) vs. Florida (17-11, 9-6)
When: 8:30 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Keyontae Johnson; F; 6-5; Fr.; 7.5 ppg; 6.0 rpg
Kevarrius Hayes; C; 6-9; Sr.; 7.4 ppg; 5.8 rpg
Andrew Nembhard; G; 6-5; Fr.; 8.1 ppg; 5.2 apg
KeVaughn Allen; G; 6-2; Sr.; 12.8 ppg; 2.8 rpg
Noah Locke; G; 6-3; Fr.; 10.5 ppg; 2.6 3FG
Nicolas Claxton; F; 6-11; So.; 12.8 ppg; 8.8 rpg
Derek Ogbeide; F; 6-9; Sr.; 9.9 ppg; 5.6 rpg
William Jackson II; G; 6-4; Sr.; 5.9 ppg ;1.7 rpg
Jordan Harris; G; 6-4; Jr.; 7.1 ppg; 3.6 rpg
Christian Harrison; G; 6-4; RSr.; 1.1 ppg; 1.1 rpg
Notes: The Gators look to build on their five-game win streak and complete the season sweep against Georgia. Florida posted a grinding 62-52 win in the first meeting in Athens, forcing the Bulldogs into 20 turnovers, as KeVaughn Allen led the Gators with 13 points … Florida’s five consecutive SEC wins mark its longest win streak in conference play since winning eight in a row during the 2016-17 season … UF leads the SEC in scoring defense (63.2; 17th nationally) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (.315). The Gators rank second in turnover margin (+3.6) and 3-pointers made (8.5) … Florida has several players who rank among the SEC leaders: KeVaughn Allen (1st, .876 free throw percentage); Andrew Nembhard (3rd, 2.5 A/TO ratio) and Noah Locke (4th, 2.6 3-pointers made; 4th, .393 3-point field goal percentage) … Florida’s defense ranks 10th in KenPom defensive efficiency and the Gators have held nine opponents to 57 points or fewer this season.
— Graham Hall