Florida Gators basketball team needs to bounce back on the road against Georgia Bulldogs

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

Regarding the Florida men’s basketball team’s 72-63 win over Georgia back on Feb. 9, UF coach Mike White said the Gators were “fortunate” to close out the victory over the Bulldogs. 

That might come as a surprise, considering last-place UGA possesses just one conference victory in 15 tries heading into Saturday’s noon tip-off against the Gators at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia.

Yet White has repeatedly pointed to the talent that lies within the conference, saying the Bulldogs rank atop the league in multiple facets as the final stretch of the regular season approaches. 

“The best cutting team in our league, in my opinion,” White said, “and the best transition-offense-push in our league, off makes or misses. (Kario) Oquendo is coming off of his best game.”

Oquendo had a career-high 33 points Tuesday night on 12-of-22 shooting from field-goal range, including an impressive 6-for-13 on three-point attempts, though the Bulldogs couldn’t avoid a double-digit defeat at Texas A&M, falling 91-77 in College Station. 

Senior forward Braelen Bridges was the only other Bulldog to finish the contest in double-figure scoring, adding 10 points as UGA dropped its eighth consecutive game. 

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The results may not be in their favor much of the time, and head coach Tom Crean continues to face scrutiny, but the Bulldogs haven’t stopped competing. 

“They’ve lost a bunch of close ones, of course, but they continue to be really competitive,” White said. “So we’re expecting a really competitive game. We’ve got to play really well. It’s hard to win on the road in this league. We have got to play well.” 

Road woes for UF

The Gators haven’t had nearly as much success on the road this season as they’ve had at home, with just a 2-6 record in away games. 

In Saturday’s 82-74 loss to Arkansas, Florida suffered just its fourth defeat at home this season as the Razorbacks outscored UF by a margin of 28-14 over the final 7:57 of game-time. 

Florida hit just two of its final 10 field-goal attempts against Arkansas, the league’s hottest team since Jan. 9.

Florida Gators forward Colin Castleton (12) shoots a jumper during the first half Tuesday against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Billy Donovan Court at Exactech Arena in Gainesville.

UF senior forward Colin Castleton, who scored a career-best 29 points in the losing effort against the Razorbacks, was noticeably discouraged in the aftermath of the defeat; though White isn’t expecting the Gators to suffer any hangover following another emotional setback. 

“This is a really resilient group, as we talked about. I’m not surprised that guys got after it yesterday and (Friday),” White said. “Very disappointed, of course, in the way that we finished it, especially with defense down the stretch. We got a (two-possession) lead and took a breath, and we’ve done it a few games this year. You can’t take a breath defensively. In this era and in this league, you’ve got to put 40 minutes together defensively, especially us, where we’re at from a defensive standpoint.” 

White criticized the team’s transition defense against the Razorbacks, as well as Florida’s inability to corral loose balls coming off missed shots. Suffice to say, that won’t cut it, especially for a team with rebounding deficiencies. 

To defeat the Bulldogs – and subsequently increase their postseason odds – the Gators must channel an urgency on the floor when it comes to both getting back and getting to the ball. 

“When we score, we’ve got to sprint back and match up. Contest shots, hit, go rebound the ball with two hands. There were probably twelve 50-50 balls in that game against Arkansas, and I bet they got 10 of them. Transition defense killed us,” White said. “Those were a couple of the big factors in the last one that will carry over, potentially, to this one, so that’s what we’re focusing on, again, with Georgia’s big transition-offensive push.”

Florida Gators' projected starters vs. Georgia

Anthony Duruji: F, 6-7, 209, Sr., 8.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg

Tyree Appleby: G, 6-1, 163, Sr., 11.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg

Myreon Jones: G, 6-3, 175, Sr., 8.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg

Colin Castleton: F, 6-11, 240, Sr., 16.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg

Phlandrous Fleming Jr.: G, 6-5, 205, Gr., 10.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg

Georgia Bulldog’s projected starters vs. Florida

Kario Oquendo: G, 6-4, 215, So, 15.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg

Christian Wright: G, 6-3, 185, Fr., 5.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg

Aaron Cook: G, 6-2, 185, Gr., 10.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg

Jaxon Etter: G, 6-4, 205, Jr., 5.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg

Braelen Bridges: F, 6-11, 240, Sr., 12.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg

Notes: Since returning from a shoulder injury that kept him out for six games, Castleton has averaged 18.5 points over UF’s previous six games. … Tyree Appleby has scored 39 points in the last 60 minutes of game action, posting 20 in the second half vs. Auburn and 19 against Arkansas. … Braelen Bridges’ current .635 field-goal percentage puts him at No. 2 among UGA's all-time season leaders. … Aaron Cook’s 152 assists is good for No. 5 among UGA's all-time season leaders. Cook needs just two more assists to move up to No. 3 in program history.

How to watch Florida Gators vs. Georgia Bulldogs basketball Saturday

Time: Noon

TV/Radio: ESPN2/98.1-FM, AM-850