It was clear in the aftermath of Florida’s 78-71 loss to Mississippi State – the team’s third loss in as many tries – that the Gators have reached a season low.
After leading by as many as 16 points Tuesday at the O’Connell Center and taking a double-digit lead into halftime, the Gators appeared well on their way to a bounce-back win following losses at LSU and against top-ranked Baylor at the O-Dome.
UF coach Mike White admitted what ensued left him with a pit in his stomach.
Florida found itself outscored 43-26 in the second half, thanks to a dominant performance from Reggie Perry, one of the SEC’s most improved players this season. Perry scored 10 of his career-high 27 points in the second half – a period that saw the Bulldogs shoot 61 percent from the field.
For the Gators, it was another reminder that the team, which began the season amid lofty expectations and talks of one-and-done, had strayed further off course.
“Just mental lapses and lack of focus coming out in the second half,” said freshman Scottie Lewis, who scored a career-high 17 points. “That’s something that we can fix. You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, Coach White and our staff have seen it. When we’re 100-percent focused at all points in the game, we’re pretty dangerous. And we all know that.”
Having wrapped January’s slate of games with a .500 mark, and with three of their next four SEC games coming on the road, the Gators are running out of time to correct the issues – and with a roster largely reliant on underclassmen, there’s no telling if rectification is even possible before the season’s up.
“I think it just comes down to comfortability. It’s just biting your tongue and asking yourself ‘Do you really want to win?’, you know? Before we went out, Andrew (Nembhard) and I talked about, to the team, taking every moment for granted and not taking a possession off, because obviously you don’t know if we’re promised tomorrow, and play every game like it’s your last, because it may be,” Lewis said. “I think with everything that’s going on this week, that’s something that’s a point of emphasis for us right now, which is taking everything serious. I think we had that in our minds the first half, and the second half we got comfortable.”
Considering the Gators have now lost 40 percent of their contests, the fact his team could be comfortable heading into a decisive February slate is troublesome for Florida’s coaching staff.
With no clear-cut solution at hand just yet, White has little choice but to continue searching for UF’s second-half pulse.
“Our defensive numbers are not very pretty, and they’re getting uglier every day. And it’s being communicated very clearly. We made common mistakes today that don’t allow for success against high-level teams,” White said. “But most of all, just our defensive energy that we exhibited early second half. Whether you score or not, and they throw that thing up to (Nick) Weatherspoon and he sprints past three or four of our guys and it leads to a dunk – we’re not playing hard enough. We’re a team, where we don’t play extremely hard right now, but I’ve seen us do it. So that’s what we’ve got to figure out.”
”When we’re 100-percent focused at all points in the game, we’re pretty dangerous.”
-(freshman guard) Scotty Lewis.
Scotty, while I’m a big fan of yours, some of us have watched ”Florida Basketball” longer than you’ve been alive on earth. And playing ”100 PERCENT ALL THE TIME” is exactly ”How you become champions.” That is, if that’s the goal. Lately, I’m not certain what Mike White’s goals for this team truly are anymore. Go Gators!
Mike White needs to go sooner rather than later. Does anyone familiar with this team or gator basketball see this guy ever cutting down nets on the way to a Final Four? It was an experiment (tried to find Billy Donovan 2.0), but it has failed. Huge buyout or not (good job Strickland with the extension), it’s time to cut bait. The basketball is unwatchable (how about a fast break occasionally), most of the players regress over time, and he looks lost most of the time. It would be nice if the sportswriters and announcers started to point this stuff out instead of worshipping a guy who had one good year and happens to have a dad who is the Duke AD. I will be back to post similar comments after all the future losses (about 13 per year).
It’s interesting that Miss State won by constantly going to Perry. Was Coach White paying attention? He seems to prefer moving the ball to everyone and not using his weapons. For two years he ignored Kevauhan Allen, his best offensive weapon, letting him sit in the corner and occasionally giving him the ball, when as the best shooter (the only one that could shoot off of the dribble and actually had the physical ability and the foul shooting ability to score a lot) he should have been the focus of the Gator attack. Now he has Nembhard constantly giving up the ball instead of making him the focal point of the attack. Having those kinds of blind spots won’t prevent a coach from winning a good portion of his games, but it doesn’t win any brass rings. I am sure that Bruce Pearl would not be doing the same thing. You don’t ask Saquon Barkley to pass block all of the time instead of running and receiving. Let’s see if the coach has learned anything from losing and having Nembhard shoot occasionally.
So Coach White built a team on freshmen, but expects them to be mentally tough and not have defensive breakdowns. At this time last year, their high school teams were wrapping up the regular season. They didn’t have to learn the complicated switching, fighting through screens and rotations of college defense. If they got beat, they just relied on their athletic ability to make up for it.
Our sophomores are having to gel with the freshman. They know the switches and doubles and assignments but if the freshman blow an assignment, it leaves a guy wide open when a switch isn’t executed properly.
We have no juniors who truly contribute. Basset is the only junior and the only Mike White recruit who has stuck with this program for more than 2 years..EVER.
The lone senior is in his first year and is also learning how White likes to play defense.
This team isn’t complacent or comfortable. They are inexperienced and this program is built on inexperience. I hate when White calls the team soft or lacking intensity. He said this last year too. Do something about it….fire the strength coach, recruit some “program” guys, decide what type of team – no, program – you want to be. Everything else is just an excuse.
If it’s any consolation, Memphis’ story is eerily very similar to ours.
2019 Recruiting Rankings: Memphis #1, Florida #8
Number of 5-star recruits: Memphis 2, Florida 2
Ranking, preseason: Memphis #14, Florida #6
Ranking, current (Week 13): Neither ranked
Overall record: Memphis 15-5, Florida 12-8
Conference record: Memphis 4-3, Florida 4-3
Conference standing: Memphis 6th/12, Florida 7th/14
Latest Lunardi Bracketology: Memphis 12th seed, Florida 10th seed
Both teams were highly ranked during preseason based on the recruiting rankings and incoming freshmen 5-stars. The moral of the story is you can throw the preseason hype out the window. I remember many a year, especially during his early years at UK, in which Calipari had a highly ranked recruiting class which led to much preseason hype and high ranking but they didn’t live up to expectations. To be fair, he did have some good seasons and some seasons in which the team didn’t well until February/March. He’s gotten better over the years in getting his young teams to perform.
So in sum, I would cut Coach White some slack. It’s not easy to live up to expectations based on incoming 5-star players. This year’s offense is much better than in previous years. However, the defense is not vintage Coach White which has been M.O. I thought Gator fans love offense even if we lost over winning with a bad offense. OK, so call me a pumper.
Sly, I have to disagree with some of your comments. The offense is not better. Scoring is within 0.5 pts of the average for White’s first 4 years. FG% is slightly up but no surprise 3 PT FG % is down. Average turnovers are up. So at best, it’s equal to the first 4 years.
This team is not built on Freshman. The 4 leading players by minutes (all over 30 min/per game) are a Senior and three Sophomores. They are also the 4 leading scorers. This is not that unusual for Power 5 teams in modern college basketball. The age mix of team 5 years into a coach’s term is on him.
Finally, you are asking us to give White a break because Memphis is having a bad season too? Come on, Memphis. Are we talking about Memphis? That’s the comparison now for Florida basketball? Even that is a bad comparison since they lost a player averaging 20 pts / 11 rebounds (Wiseman, 22/12 vs #11 Oregon).
I keep looking for A CHANGEing defense, like what Donovan used to do. I /mean, play man to man one trip, then switch to 3-2 zone, then revolving M to M, then 1-3-1, then haLF-court trap. I don’t see it. The opposing team does not have to guess and change its offense in mid-stream. It knows Florida will give up back door screens and the corners and the Gator defense gets LOST. I mean you just can’t give up a 16 pt. lead and lose by 10. There is something wrong here and this team is headed toward a long post season without a quick answer/solution to its game.