BASKETBALL

Florida Gators men's basketball prepares for another SEC showdown against No. 18 Arkansas

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

A quick turnaround against another top-25 opponent means there’s little to no time for celebration for the Florida men’s basketball team. 

“We just have to remember what we’ve been through. We’ve had some tough losses and some great wins,” guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. said. “So we just need to remember to stay humble, stay grateful for this opportunity, and take it one game at a time.”

The Gators, fresh off a one-point victory Saturday over then-No. 2-ranked Auburn, will battle No. 18-ranked Arkansas in the penultimate home game of UF’s regular season, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. in the Exactech Arena, giving an on-the-bubble Florida team another opportunity to increase its odds of making the NCAA Tournament. 

Florida’s frontcourt, which saw Tigers freshman phenom Jabari Smith go for 28 points in the losing effort, is in for another battle as Arkansas forward Jaylin Williams was named the SEC’s co-Player of the Week alongside Vanderbilt guard Scotty Pippen Jr. for his efforts in the Razorbacks’ wins over Missouri and No. 17-ranked Tennessee. Williams, who had a career-high 16 rebounds against Tennessee, has eight double-double performances over Arkansas’ previous 13 contests, including four in a row heading into the match-up with the Gators. 

Williams also drew four charges, including three in the first half, against the Volunteers, giving him 41 on the season, to help Arkansas improve to 11-1 in its last 12 contests after an 0-3 start to begin SEC play. 

Florida, looking to avoid a letdown on the heels of an impressive win, is aware of the threat the Razorbacks pose on the defensive end

“They’re defending as well as anyone in our league. Arguably the best defense in our league, in the best defensive conference in the country,” UF coach Mike White said of Arkansas. “They’re consistently committed and connected.”

UF fined by SEC after fans storm court

White is hoping the Gators have found some consistency of their own in the wake of the upset over Auburn, which saw fans rush the court as the final buzzer sounded. The SEC announced Monday that UF incurred a $50,000 fine for a first violation of the league's access to competition area policy. 

Florida guard Tyree Appleby (22) scored a career-high 26 points on Saturday against then-No. 2 Auburn in Gainesville. Appleby looks to continue that success Tuesday night when the Gators host No. 18 Arkansas.

Tyree Appleby

In a bounce-back performance, senior guard Tyree Appleby had 20 of his Florida-career-high 26 points in the second half against the Tigers. His confidence, whether Appleby is pushing the ball in the open court or pulling up from long-range, continues to impress his coaches and teammates alike. 

The Gators know they’ll need the 6-foot-1 Appleby, a native of Jacksonville, Arkansas, to maintain his form against the Razorbacks. 

“A lot of it with Tyree is his DNA. He’s a confident guy,” White said. “He’s got some swagger to him. I think this team could use a little bit more swagger. We do talk about that — I think that’s, again, earned through growth and development, and playing well. That’s what comes first, but sometimes, obviously, if you have that innate quality, it helps you play better.” 

White went a step further, saying the level of conviction Appleby competes with has had a tendency to rub off on his teammates; when he’s hitting shots over taller defenders, Appleby’s fellow Gators do more than just take notice — they want to taste similar success. 

Florida Gators guard Brandon McKissic (23) looks to find a lane to drive to the basket during a game against Georgia on Feb. 9 at Exactech Arena in Gainesville.

Brandon McKissic

Take fellow guard Brandon McKissic, for example, who is shooting below 25 percent on long-range attempts this season. 

As of the final media timeout against Auburn, McKissic hadn’t converted a field goal attempt Saturday against the Tigers, missing his first two attempts. But with UF clutching a narrow two-point lead, McKissic knocked down a 3 from the corner and proceeded to scream in jubilation in the direction of White and Florida’s bench after his perseverance on the offensive end had been rewarded. 

Against the red-hot, defensive-minded Razorbacks, Florida may be preaching humility, but it can’t result in a decreased level of certainty in one’s abilities. 

“He’s had games where he’s one of the best three or four guys on the floor, and that’s his ceiling, and he’s had games where we’re trying to find ways to get him going. When he’s playing well, he’s a very good player,” White said of McKissic. “I’m not a big preacher of confidence. I think that you do what you’re supposed to do consistently, you’ll gain confidence as you develop and grow.”

TUESDAY'S GAME

Who: No. 18 Arkansas at Florida

Time: 7 p.m. 

TV/Radio: ESPN 2/ 98.1-FM, AM-850

Florida’s projected starters

Anthony Duruji;  F;  6-7;  209;  Sr.;  8.8 ppg;  4.1 rpg

Tyree Appleby;  G;  6-1;  163;  Sr.;  10.7 ppg;  2.1 rpg

Myreon Jones;  G;  6-3;  175;  Sr.;  9.2 ppg;  2.8 rpg

Colin Castleton;  F;  6-11;  240;  Sr.;  15.7;  ppg 9.1 rpg

Phlandrous Fleming Jr.;  G;  6-5;  205;  Gr.;  10.1 ppg;  4.1 rpg

Arkansas’s projected starters

Trey Wade;  F;  6-6;  220;  Gr.;  3.7 ppg;  2.4 rpg

Jaylin Williams;  F;  6-10;  240;  So.;  10.3 ppg;  9.6 rpg

Stanley Umude;  G;  6-6;  210;  Gr.;  11.1;  ppg;  4.6 rpg

JD Notae;  G;  6-2;  190;  Sr.;  18.5 ppg;  4.4 rpg

Au’Diese Toney;  G;  6-6;  205;  Sr.;  0.3;  ppg;  5.5 rpg

Notes: Florida looks for top-25 wins in consecutive SEC games for the first time since beating No. 23 Vanderbilt and No. 10 Kentucky in February 2010. UF last beat SEC teams ranked 18th or higher in back-to-back games in February 2001, when the Gators won three straight against No. 15 Tennessee, No. 12 Ole Miss and No. 14 Alabama…Saturday’s win over No. 2-ranked Auburn marked the Gators’ highest-ranked home win in program history and matched UF’s highest-ranked regular season victory…Arkansas senior guard JD Notae has scored in double figures in every game he’s played in this season.