College basketball: Gators seeking another bounceback, take on USF in Orange Bowl Classic

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer
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The University of Florida Gators head coach Mike White makes a call to his players during a game against Milwaukee Panthers, at Exactech Arena in Gainesville Fla., Nov. 18, 2021. The Gators won 81-45 over the Panthers.

Having dropped three of its last four contests, the Florida men’s basketball team looks to end the non-conference slate on a high note when the Gators take on the University of South Florida at 1 p.m. Saturday in Sunrise in the Orange Bowl Classic. 

UF returned home from Brooklyn after suffering a 70-68 loss to Maryland, as guard Tyree Appleby’s 3-point attempt hit the back of the rim and didn’t fall, a disappointing finish to what has been an up-and-down start to the season. It’s been a grueling one, too, and the team hasn’t had much time to focus solely on the internal improvements, as preparing for the opposition has commanded much of Florida’s attention. 

“We’ve had our hands full in terms of some quick preps, and it just seems like it’s been game after game after game, and dealing with academics and the NCAA-required amount of days off, which is increasing over time. We just hadn’t had a chance really until a couple days ago to focus on ourselves for an entire day,” UF coach Mike White said Thursday. “Today, we’re back on South Florida. But hopefully all of these experiences, you know, you can grow from and learn from, whether you win or lose. Not very happy with these last couple losses, any of our losses, but it’s winning or learning, right? And if we don’t learn from losses, then shame on us, and we’re going to try to continue to learn as much as we can from wins as well.”

The Gators continue to gather knowledge when it comes to how to improve. Florida’s self-proclaimed identity this season is that of a defensive-minded team, but defending the perimeter has had a tendency to impact the outcome as UF has allowed teams to convert 44.7% of three-point attempts in its three losses compared to just 24.8% in the team’s seven victories. 

White doesn’t think that particular statistic tells the entire picture, however. 

“In a couple of our losses, we’ve had a couple hit on us where we’re hanging over a guy, and vice versa,” White said. “We’re always gonna learn from wins as well, and then a couple of our big wins we’ve shown these guys we quite didn’t do our jobs here. We weren’t quite as accountable as we needed to be on this side and they just missed one.

“Overall, our attention to detail with making shooters bounce the ball is something we’re going to continue to focus on at a high level.” 

The Gators are also aware of a need to create second-chance opportunities, which will require helping forward Colin Castleton in the low-post. The senior from DeLand is tied for second in the SEC with an average of 9.4 rebounds per contest while hauling in more than twice the amount of boards as any of his Florida teammates. Anthony Duruji, the starting forward opposite of Castleton, started the season with 21 rebounds combined across UF’s first three contests but has totaled just 19 in the seven games that followed. The Gators don’t just need the high-flying Duruji to be active on the glass – it’s a team-wide effort that continues Sunrise against a Bulls team with length in the frontcourt in seven-footer Russel Tchewa. 

“We’ve got to be more sharp on the glass collectively. That’s point guards, two-guards, wings, all of us,” White said. “(Duruji), I think his biggest issue has been foul trouble, and then when he’s in foul trouble he’s a step slow, he’s maybe a little hesitant. And we’ve got to do a better job of keeping him out of foul trouble early. I think that’s a big factor for him – when you’re flying around and you’re foul-free, and you’re able to just play with reckless abandon on the glass, you have a better chance of rebounding at a high level. And we need that from him.” 

Projected starters

Florida

Anthony Duruji F 6-7   220    R-Sr    9.1 ppg     4.0 rpg

Colin Castleton F 6-11 231    Sr      5.0 ppg   9.4 rpg

Brandon McKissic G 6-3   185   Gr. 7.7 ppg   3.3rpg

Phlandrous Fleming Jr. G 6-5   205    Gr. 11.0 ppg 3.8 rpg

Myreon Jones G 6-3   175   Sr 9.7 ppg  3.5 rpg

South Florida

Sam Hines Jr. F 6-6 215   Fr 3.5 ppg   4.1 rpg

Russel Tchewa C 7-0 280   So. 6.5 ppg    5.8 rpg

Javon Greene G 6-4 195   Sr 9.4 ppg   4.9 rpg

Caleb Murphy G 6-4 185   Fr. 12.6 ppg   4.0 rpg

Jamir Chaplin G 6-5 200   So 6.4 ppg   4.5 rpg

Notes: Florida and USF meet for the first time in 19 years, as the Gators return to the Orange Bowl Classic, where they hold a 17-4 all-time record… UF has played in the event every December since 2006 except for last season… Florida looks to improve to 3-0 vs. in-state opponents this season, previously earning wins vs. Florida State and North Florida in Gainesville… This marks Florida’s 22nd appearance in the Orange Bowl Classic. The Gators hold a 17-4 record all-time in the event.

Who: Florida (7-3) vs. South Florida (4-4)

What: Orange Bowl Classic

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: BB&T Center in Sunrise

TV: Bally Sports Sun

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM 

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