Who: LSU (19-8, 10-4 SEC) vs. Florida (17-10, 9-5)
When: 9 tonight
Where: O’Connell Center
As the Gators men’s basketball team prepares to avenge the last-second loss Jan. 21 at LSU, coach Mike White said Florida has a tendency to bounce back quickly after losses – too quickly, perhaps.
But with the Tigers (19-8, 10-4 SEC) in town for a 9 p.m. match-up, and with a roster comprised primarily of inexperienced yet developing players, White knows that same optimistic outlook gives UF its best shot at rebounding from Saturday’s six-point loss at Kentucky.
“Kids are kids. These guys, I think, I wish they didn’t bounce back quite as well. I wish losses hurt ’em a little bit more, honestly. They’re fine. Guys are in the gym. Guys were ready to work yesterday. For the most part, we’ve, after losses, we’ve bounced back positive, and if that’s not the case we won’t have a chance tomorrow,” White said prior to Tuesday’s practice session. “We’ll have to play confidently, we’ll have to play with edge and we’ve got to play more together.”
After entering the halftime break knotted up with the Wildcats, the Gators (17-10, 9-5 SEC) struggled with subpar shot selection in the second half and would finish with 16 turnovers – miscues White once again deemed “careless,” although he admitted the Rupp Arena crowd did play a factor into UF’s issues.
“We played a little bit rushed. It got loud, they’re defending at a high level, we have a couple empty possessions and we had too much trying to do it on our own, just trying to go make a play. It was a little bit out of character. Again, your opponent often has a lot to do with that,” White said. “We had had a good four- or five-game stretch where we were really sharing it, really moving it. Again, it’s hard to really move it against really good defenses, particularly the defenses that extend a little bit. LSU does some of it as well. That said, we’ve got to do a better job moving forward. We’ve got to do a better job against LSU moving the ball and taking the best shot they give us, regardless of who that person is on our team, and we’ve got to be OK with that.”
With Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke struggling against the Wildcats – the pair combined to score just four points on 1-for-11 field-goal shooting – the Gators gave freshman Tre Mann an extended look in the second half. The Gainesville native turned in another impressive performance on both ends, shooting 3-for-4 from behind the arc in 29 minutes of action, his second-highest usage this season after logging 31 minutes in Florida’s emphatic comeback Feb. 5 against Georgia.
“Potentially that could have been his best game. He’s growing. He’s a talented guy and he’s more confident offensively,” White said of Mann’s performance in Lexington. “Again, he’s gotten better defensively, he’s playing a little harder. His ceiling’s high. He’s got to maintain where he is right now with his approach and his mentality.”
Mann, who has played double-digit minutes in every game since Florida visited LSU on Jan. 21, acknowledged he’s improved throughout the season after initially struggling to adjust to the collegiate level.
“Shots that I thought weren’t open then, I know I’ve got to shoot those shots now,” Mann said. “Before I thought I was going to be more open, so that has slowed down a little bit for me and it’s opened up. Coming off of ball screens and making reads has become a little bit easier for me now.”
Although the season personally hasn’t gone the way Mann, deemed a potential one-and-done at UF by several NBA draft analysts, envisioned, it’s anything but over considering Florida’s postseason future is still undetermined. Like Mann’s tenure at UF to date, it’s about the finish rather than the start.
“It wasn’t what I expected. I thought I was going to be able to come in and make shots and score for my team, but I feel like I’m picking it up now, so it’s getting better,” Mann said of the beginning of his freshman season. “We just have to work hard every day, and we know that time is running out.”
Notes: Florida and LSU play the Gainesville end of their season series, with the Gators looking to bounce back from Saturday’s loss at Kentucky. LSU took the first meeting this season, 84-82, after Keyontae Johnson’s last-second layup was waved off. In that game, LSU out rebounded the Gators 36-28 and 15-8 on the offensive boards with the Tigers getting 50 points in the paint. During the last four games between UF-LSU, Florida has a 294-293 scoring advantage. Twice in the last four games, the teams have needed overtime to decide things.