No. 4 Auburn (15-1, 3-1 SEC) vs. Florida (11-5, 3-1), O’Connell Center, 1:30 p.m. today, CBS, 103.7-FM
After bouncing back from a double-digit loss, the Florida men’s basketball team will look to prevent Auburn from doing the same when the Gators and No. 4-ranked Tigers tip-off at 1:30 p.m. today in Exactech Arena.
Auburn (15-2, 3-1 SEC) arrives in Gainesville having just suffered its lone loss of the season Wednesday, a 83-64 defeat at Alabama that saw coach Bruce Pearl’s squad turn the ball over a season-high 21 times while shooting just 32 percent from the field.
Turnovers were the story the last time Florida (11-5, 3-1) and Auburn battled – a 65-62 Auburn win in the SEC Tournament semifinal that saw the Gators turn the ball over 19 times to the Tigers’ four – leading UF coach Mike White to emphasize his team still has work to do when it comes to taking care of the basketball.
“Every game in this league you have to value the ball at a high rate. We’ve gotten better with that over the past month with our decisions, but we’re not where we need to be,” White said. “And really, more than anything, if we’re going to turn it over, we might as well kick it up into the stands or throw it to me over on the bench. The pick-6s (easy points off turnovers) against these guys, they just convert at such a high level. Live-ball turnovers are scary against these guys.”
That’s something White and the Gators have seen up close.
When the Tigers aren’t busy turning the opposition’s mistakes into easy buckets – Auburn scored 20 points off of UF’s 19 turnovers in the previous match-up – they’re creating second-chance opportunities of their own.
The Tigers lead the SEC in rebounding with 42.1 per game, including a league-high 13.8 offensive boards a contest – meaning it’ll take a team effort if Florida hopes to command the paint.
“Like Coach White says, we got to do a lot of smart crashes (on the board). If you think you can get the offensive rebound, go in and try to crash, just make an attempt,” said sophomore Keyontae Johnson. “But mainly, I think the boxing out on defense is going to be the main focus. The guards got to help us rebound down, like batting down (Austin Wiley), so I feel like that’s going to be the main focus of this game, and turnovers.”
With sophomore guard Andrew Nembhard’s availability in doubt due to flu-like symptoms that have kept him out of practice since UF’s win over Ole Miss, the Gators may be forced to play freshmen guards for extended minutes against the Tigers; regardless, White expects Florida to step up and capitalize on one of several opportunities on the horizon to pick up a resume-padding victory.
“We’ve got a bunch (of tough games) left, but yeah, you’ve got to start taking advantage of some of them,” White said. “And you’ve got to win some of these. I don’t think any of them are do or die. I don’t think you put your team – especially this team – in the right mindset to execute (by saying that). But our guys also have to understand, and we all have to understand, that at this time of year — really from the first game to finish – you’ve got to take advantage of some of these opportunities. Our guys will be ready. They’ll be ready. I’ll be surprised if we don’t play really, really hard. I think our focus will be on point, but it’s a top-five team. We’re going to have to execute the game plan and make some shots and play with poise and value the basketball and do all those things.”
Omar Payne;F;6-10;223;Fr.;4.3 ppg;4.1 rpg
Keyontae Johnson;F;6-5;231;So.;13.0 ppg;6.8 rpg
Kerry Blackshear Jr.;F;6-10;241;Gr.;15.0 ppg;8.4 rpg
Andrew Nembhard;G;6-5;193;So.;11.1 ppg;5.9 apg
Noah Locke;G;6-3;207;So.;9.9 ppg;3.1 rpg
Danjel Purifoy;F;6-7;230;Sr.;9.5 ppg;5.1 rpg
Isaac Okoro;F;6-6;225;Fr.;13.1 ppg;4.5 rpg
Austin Wiley;C;6-11;260;Sr.;10.7 ppg;9.7 rpg
J’Von McCormick;G;6-0;185;Sr.;11.3 ppg;4.1 rpg
Samir Doughty;G;6-4;195;Sr.;15.1ppg;3.8 rpg
Notes: Florida looks to build on its bounce-back win vs. Ole Miss on Tuesday, in which the Florida defense limited the Rebels to 55 points.The Gators have won both home meetings vs. Auburn under coach Mike White, including a win against a No. 12 Tigers team two seasons ago, but Auburn won both meetings last season, once in Auburn and again in the SEC Tournament semifinals. The Tigers enter with a 27-2 record over their last 29 games.Florida holds an all-time 21-61 record vs. AP top-5 teams, including 11-19 in Gainesville. Florida has faced a top-5 Auburn team once before, losing to the No. 4 Tigers, 93-71, on Feb. 9, 1959.