Gators look to sustain momentum at LSU

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Florida's Keyontae Johnson goes in to score a basket during last year's game against visiting LSU. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

Florida (12-5, 4-1 SEC) vs. LSU (13-4, 5-0), Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Tuesday, 7 p.m. EST, SEC Network, 103.7-FM


Coming off an imposing 22-point win over then-No. 4 Auburn – Florida’s first win over a top-five opponent since downing then-No. 2 Michigan State on Nov. 27, 2009 – the Gators will look to maintain their current momentum at the Maravich Center in Baton Rouge against LSU tonight. 

Despite looking much improved on both ends of the floor Saturday, UF coach Mike White said the Gators can ill afford to let the elation extend into Tuesday’s contest. 

For this underclassmen-heavy Florida team, that simply isn’t the ideal approach when it comes to game preparation.

“We felt really good for a little while, for about an hour, then we were moving on, moving on to the (LSU) Tigers,” White said. “We’ve got our hands full. They’re really good, of course. Leading the league, and as talented as probably any team in the country. And playing really well, best offense in our league, so, just got to move on. And after we play them, we’ve got to move on to the next one.”

Florida’s last road game, a 91-75 loss at Missouri, came in the wake of back-to-back feel-good wins for the Gators; considering the way that trip played out, UF is proceeding with additional caution.

“They’re fantastic in a lot of areas. Getting to the foul line, converting free throws at a really high clip; they are arguably the best offensive rebounding team in our league. I think they’re leading our league in offensive efficiency –  their 2-point percentage is off the charts,” White said of the impending match-up with LSU. “They’ve got guys off the bench that are really good, of course. Their starting five offensively is just terrific, and defensively they’re disruptive, as well. They change defenses, they play really hard. They’re really good. They got to be – I know I’ve said this a couple times this year – they got as underrated a backcourt as we’ll see. They’re starting guards are terrific.”

The cautionary and considerate approach doesn’t imply the Gators aren’t in the midst of their own improvement, however.

White acknowledged Saturday’s victory was “definitely” UF’s most complete performance on both ends of the court – a showing made even more impressive considering it came against a top-five opponent – one that had won 27 of its last 29 regular season games, no less. 

Now, having won five of its last six games heading into a brutal stretch, the focus for Florida is to continue fine-tuning that formula for success – and not let the short-term success inhibit the team’s long-term progression. 

“I think that our ball security has gotten better. Our shot selection has gotten better, our movement of the basketball. We’ve gotten better on the offensive glass, Omar (Payne) being a big part of that of course. Even Keyontae’s gotten better, too. Overall I think our confidence level has increased a little bit. Defensively, I think we were taking steps in the wrong direction there until the other day, so nice to see us defending the way we’re capable of again, as well,” White said. “I’m not sure it was Auburn’s best output, either, the best outing, rather. But we played well. We defended a top-five team at a high level and got into as decent as offensive rhythm as you can get into against that type of defense. They’re just so disruptive. I wish we could have a few of those turnovers back. But we played really well. We’ve got to continue to get better, though, of course.”


PROJECTED STARTERS

Florida

Omar Payne;F;6-10;223;Fr.;5.2 ppg;4.5 rpg

Keyontae Johnson;F;6-5;231;So.;12.5 ppg;6.6 rpg

Kerry Blackshear Jr.;F;6-10;241;Gr.;14.8 ppg;8.9 rpg 

Andrew Nembhard;G;6-5;193;So.;10.8 ppg;5.9 apg

Noah Locke;G;6-3;207;So.;10.2 ppg;3.1 rpg 

LSU

Darius Days;F;6-6;240;So.;11.9 ppg;8.1 rpg

Trendon Watford;F;6-9;235;Fr.;12.6 ppg;6.9 rpg

Emmitt Williams;F;6-6;230;So.;13.4 ppg;6.8 rpg

Javonte Smart;G;6-5;205;So.;11.7 ppg;3.6 rpg

Skylar Mays;G;6-4;205;Sr.;15.9ppg;4.8 rpg

Notes: Florida and LSU provided nothing but drama in last season’s three meetings, as the visiting team earned an overtime win in both regular-season contests, followed by Andrew Nembhard’s last-second game-winner to knock off the top-seeded Tigers in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals … UF enters the game coming off its first win vs. an AP top 5 team since 2009 with the 69-47 rout of 4th-ranked Auburn, led by Omar Payne’s 19-point, 11-rebound performance, his first career double-double.

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