Florida Gators look to avoid starting SEC play 0-3 as they host No. 12 LSU Tigers
Florida guard Tyree Appleby acknowledged the Gators “got a little bit too comfortable” following the team’s six-game win streak to start the 2021-22 season, and the UF men’s basketball team’s 3-5 mark since Dec. 1 has erased just about all the positive momentum generated over the first month of the schedule.
But the Gators haven’t lost their innate confidence and are well-aware of what’s at stake when they take the court at 7 p.m. against another highly ranked opponent, No. 12 LSU.
Tyree Appleby says Gators can get the win
“We know we’re playing three top-20 teams for the first three conference games, so we know they’re going to be tough,” Appleby said. “But we know if we do the things that we need to do and correct our mistakes, we know we can come out with a win.”
The Gators haven’t played three consecutive regular-season games against ranked league opponents since the 2000-01 season, though UF did manage to draw four games in a row against top-25 opposition during the 2018-19 season across the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
Coach Mike White needs efficient performance at both ends
If the Gators hope to avoid starting conference play with defeats in all three — further hindering their chances of making it five-straight trips to the “big dance” in the process — UF coach Mike White knows it will take a clean and efficient performance on both ends. The Tigers are coming off a 79-67 defeat of No. 23-ranked Tennessee, marking LSU’s fourth-straight victory over the Vols, and coach Will Wade’s team continues to state its case as one of the nation’s best on the defensive end as the season nears the midpoint. LSU utilizes the triple switch, an incredibly popular defensive scheme overseas and in the NBA currently making its way to the collegiate level. Rather than switching out of necessity or opportunity, the triple switch works when the screener rotates to the ball-handler, forcing the guard to defend the frontcourt. For a Florida team struggling as of late with ball security, the Tigers’ defense figures to be a two-hour headache.
How to watch:Florida Gators men's basketball vs. LSU Tigers on TV, streaming
More:Florida Gators men's basketball game at Ole Miss rescheduled for Jan. 24
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"Their bigs really, really move. They’re a high-level-communication team,” White said of LSU. “To be the No. 1 defense in the country, you’ve got to play really hard and you’ve got to be connected, and this group seems really connected right now.”
As for his own team, White hopes steps have been taken despite the undesirable outcomes as of late. In the second half of the 85-73 loss Saturday at now-No. 4-ranked Auburn, the Gators committed just five turnovers over the final 20 minutes compared to 12 in the first half, and at one point the Auburn lead had been chiseled down to just a lone point, though UF couldn’t turn the tide and secure the comeback.
Tigers guard Xavier Pinson likely out
Appleby led the team in assists down the stretch with four, recorded a pair of steals and didn’t turn it over during his 15 minutes of second-half action. Facing a Tigers backcourt that will likely be without senior guard Xavier Pinson after he suffered a knee sprain in the win over the Vols, the Gators need Appleby to consistently play the way he did after halftime at Auburn Arena.
“I thought he was terrific. The last 35 minutes of the game he was really solid with his ball decisions. Showed a lot of mental toughness in an electric environment. I thought we did a lot of good things there, especially the first 13, 15 minutes of the second half,” White said of Appleby, the former Cleveland State transfer. “I said it after the game a couple times: Auburn would have beaten probably anyone in college basketball that night, in my opinion. I think they are a terrific team, as is LSU. We’ve got to play really well to have a chance. We play really well at times.
Florida’s projected starters
Anthony Duruji; F; 6-7; 220; R-Sr.; 9.1 ppg; 4.4 rpg
Colin Castleton; F; 6-11; 231; Sr.; 15.6 ppg; 9.2 rpg
Brandon McKissic; G; 6-3; 185; Gr.; 7.0 ppg; 3.1 rpg
Myreon Jones; G; 6-3; 175; Sr.; 9.9 ppg; 3.6 rpg
Tyree Appleby; G; 6-1; 163; Sr.; 10.0 ppg; 2.1 rpg
LSU’s projected starters
Darius Days; F; 6-7; 245; Sr.; 14.3 ppg; 7.9 rpg
Mwani Wilkinson; F; 6-5; 206; So.; 4.1 ppg; 3.5 rpg
Efton Reid; C; 7-0; 238; Fr.; 8.4 ppg; 5.3 rpg
Brandon Murray; G; 6-5; 214; Fr.; 9.1 ppg; 2.7 rpg
Eric Gaines; G; 6-2; 150; So.; 8.5 ppg; 3.5 rpg
Notes: It’s been a grueling start to league play, as this marks the fourth time in UF history that the Gators will square off against three ranked SEC opponents in a row and the first time doing so to open their SEC schedule after the Ole Miss game was postponed to Jan. 22…Every possession seems to matter in the Florida-LSU rivalry. Seven of the 10 meetings with the Tigers during the Mike White era have been decided by six points or fewer. The Gators are 4-3 in those tightly contested match-ups, along with a 3-0 mark in the other meetings…After shutting down the reigning SEC Player of the Week in Walker Kessler, Florida forward Colin Castleton now ranks second in the SEC in rebounding (9.2), offensive rebounds (3.5) and blocked shots (2.4).
Who: No. 12 LSU at Florida
Where: O'Connell Center
Time: 7 p.m.
Radio: AM-850, 98.1 FM