Florida Gators look to avoid starting SEC play 0-3 as they host No. 12 LSU Tigers

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer

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.

Florida guard Tyree Appleby (22) shoots against Auburn during the first half on Jan 8 in Auburn, Ala. The Gators look to avoid an 0-3 start in SEC play when the host No. 12 LSU tonight in the O'Dome. [AP Photo/Julie Bennett]

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. 


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