UF taking on No. 11 WVU in SEC/Big 12 Challenge

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer
Florida guard Noah Locke drives up court Wednesday against Vanderbilt at Exactech Arena. Florida kept up its hot shooting, connecting on 52% in the 78-71 win over Vanderbilt where all five starters for the Gators reached double figures.

Amid a three-game SEC winning streak, the Florida men’s basketball team will take a break from conference action for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, where the Gators will hit the road to take on one of the top teams in the country, No. 11 West Virginia. 

The Mountaineers escaped WVU Coliseum on Monday with a one-point win over No. 10 Texas Tech, giving coach Bob Huggins’ team their second win against top-25 teams this season. 

Today

What: SEC/Big 12 Challenge

Who: Florida (9-4) at No. 11 West Virginia (11-4)

When: 2 p.m. 

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

Meanwhile, UF heads to Morgantown coming off a 78-71 win over Vanderbilt, a contest Florida coach Mike White admitted was a bit of a mixed bag after the Gators held the Commodores to 35 points in the first 30 minutes before allowing 36 points over the final 10 minutes of play. 

On its own, the late drop off would have been a nitpick in a victory — but the Gators also allowed a 17-point advantage in the prior contest against Georgia to dwindle, raising the question whether White was concerned about UF’s play down the stretch. 

“We talked about it, we talked through every scenario. We had a long conversation about what we’ve got to do individually and collectively, especially defensively, with our focus and our discipline,” White said. “There’s a couple ways to look at it. The positive is we were really good for 30 minutes. We were up 22 on an SEC team that is hard to guard and came really prepared defensively, but to give up more in the last 10 minutes than we gave up in the first 30 kind of speaks to our mentality. It’s not the correct mentality to have in terms of growth and development, and getting better. It doesn’t speak to a lot of success down the road if we’re not able to flush that and move beyond that and be more mature than that.”

The Gators allowed the Commodores’ duo of Scotty Pippen Jr. and Dylan Disu to combine for 50 points, and UF was also out-rebounded despite starting 6-foot-10 forward Omar Payne and 6-foot-11 forward Colin Castleton together in the low post. 

Although he’s not averaging more than 20 points a night like Pippen Jr., West Virginia guard Miles McBride will pose a similar challenge for Florida today. 

Having started all 15 games, the 6-foot-2 McBride is providing just shy of 16 points a game for the Mountaineers while shooting 47.3 percent from 3-point range. 

“Huge challenges with McBride, one of the better guards in the country. Fantastic. He can score it; he gets others involved; he’ll crawl up in you defensively. He’s got toughness and speed. He’s just a really good player — quick, quick, high release, can go get his own,” said White, adding it’ll be a by-committee approach from a defensive standpoint rather than putting the pressure on either guard Tyree Appleby or Tre Mann.

“We’ve got to do it collectively. Again, our guards have got to be better, we’ve got to foul less. We messed up a couple switching situations, where, whether it was a lack of talking or listening quickly. We talk about early talk, early and loud talk, a lot, but that also has got to register if I’m the guy that’s listening to the talk, and I’ve got to react quickly as well.”

White was impressed with the defense from Payne, who made his third start of the season yet his first alongside Castleton. With the two on the floor together, the Gators have a +30 net rating this season, albeit with a small sample size. 

He missed his lone shot attempt and was limited due to foul trouble, but Payne’s head coach was impressed with his baseline defense against Vanderbilt — though there’s no guarantee the duo will be out there at tip-off together against WVU. 

With Florida rolling, however, not breaking from what’s led to recent success will also be heavily considered. 

“Our bigs were pretty good, again, in some of that ball-screen and dribble-handoff action that Vanderbilt runs, and I thought Pippen, some of it was he hit three or four big ones and hard ones, and McBride’s got the same ability. So our attention to detail’s got to be off the charts, but also have got to move onto the next play and expect he’s going to hit some when we’re hanging all over him and we’ve got to move on. We’ve got to get that thing out and get into transition offense,” White said.

“Starting those two guys together we thought we would have an uptick in rebounding, but we went the other way, surprisingly so. That said, in their defense, they didn’t get a chance because of foul trouble to play a lot together. I thought they were decent. Omar, good on some ball screen defense and perimeter defense, but on the offensive glass and defensive glass we weren’t very good collectively. Our frontcourt has to do a lot more. Our guards also got to help guys, as well, both offensive and defensive rebounding, especially going into a game like this. If we come with that rebounding effort, we won’t have a chance with these guys.”

PROJECTED STARTERS

Florida

12 Colin Castleton F  6-11 220 Jr. 6.1 ppg 3.9 rpg

22 Tyree Appleby G 6-1 170 Jr. 10.5 ppg 2.8 rpg

10 Noah Locke G 6-3 203 Jr. 10.7 ppg 2.4 rpg

01 Tre Mann G 6-5 190 So. 14.7 ppg 5.2 rpg

05 Omar Payne F 6-10 230 So. 4.1 ppg 3.8 rpg

02 Jalen Bridges F 6-7 220 RFr. 4.6 ppg 1.9 rpg

04 Miles McBride G 6-2 200 So. 15.9 ppg 3.7 rpg

05 Jordan McCabe G 6-0 188 Jr. 2.5 ppg 1.4 rpg

12 Taz Sherman G 6-4 190 Sr. 12.1 ppg 1.6 rpg

Notes: Florida makes its first trip to Morgantown in 51 years, last visiting the Mountaineers on Jan. 17, 1970, an 88-87 overtime loss (which oddly enough is the score of West Virginia’s game Monday). The first four meetings in series history all came at West Virginia, but predated the WVU Coliseum, which opened Dec. 1, 1970 ... Osayi Osifo has boosted his production recently with 14 points over the past three games, shooting a perfect 7-for-7 from the field and logging double-digit minutes in each outing. Osifo, a junior college signee, had just six points in seven appearances over Florida’s first 10 games ... Noah Locke has hit 190 3-pointers in his career and is two shy from matching Matt Walsh’s 192 to move into Florida’s all-time top 10. ... UF leads the all-time series 6-3, with a pair of wins during Mike White's tenure.

— Graham Hall