GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida basketball coach Mike White is refreshingly candid and straightforward at all times, and so when he asked how confident he is that his Gators have turned the corner and found something sustainable, he told it as he sees it.
”Not confident, not holding my breath here. We were pretty sharp yesterday. I hope we’re sharp today. We’ll see,” White said Tuesday before practice. “If we can string together 3, 4, 5, 6 of these games where we’re playing at a really, really high level of intensity and focus and togetherness — whether you win or not — I’ll feel more confident moving forward that we’ve matured and we’ve grown. That’s the hope right now.”
Florida (17-8, 8-4 SEC) has shown itself to be entirely unpredictable and prone to extreme swings one way or the other, so no, it’s not time yet time to assume that the Gators have figured it all out for good after back-to-back solid SEC wins.
Before that, of course, they had lost three straight conference games.
Nonetheless, they are in a decent position heading into the final six games of the regular-season sitting third in the conference standings and projected as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament at this time.
But the Gators have to keep it going and build on this recent momentum, which they’ll look to do Wednesday night at 9 when they host Georgia (13-11, 4-8) inside Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center.
Georgia at Florida
When | 9 p.m. Wednesday
Where | Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center, Gainesville
TV | The game will be on SEC Network with Mike Morgan on the play-by-play call and Bill Koss as the analyst.
Watch online | The game can be streamed online via WatchESPN.
”Last two games I thought we’ve played with as much urgency as we’ve played with all year. I don’t know if we had a stretch earlier in the year [where] we had two in a row like that,” White said. “… And you’re as good as your last one, of course. I just hope more than anything tomorrow against Georgia, excluding the other factors, we just get after it and we play at a really high intensity level.”
Georgia dealt Florida a 72-60 loss in Athens back on Jan. 30 before the Gators’ recent turnaround, which has included a 73-64 win over LSU and a 65-41 win on the road at South Carolina. In that lopsided victory over the Gamecocks, Florida pulled off a stunning 46-24 rebounding advantage — stunning because the Gators had been outrebounded in five of their previous six games.
As for assessing what’s changed with his team in the last couple games, White suggested that the players have talked amongst themselves and hashed out any issues that may have been holding the team back.
“You go through a little bit of adversity and you grow from it. The more adversity you have with a high-character team, your hope is the more you grow from it. We’ve had few to this point,” White said. “In February, maybe it’s the light at the end of the tunnel we can all see, it’s coming to an end, especially for our seniors. And then it may be the fact that our guys have communicated a lot with each other here lately. We’ve gotten some stuff out, which is much needed with all teams. It’s not the first time these guys have met this year, but refocused their priorities on what it takes to win and compete at the highest level rather than I think at times this team’s focus has been, how many am I scoring, how many shots am I getting, how many minutes am I going to play? …
“The last two games, we were locked in on doing our job for the team, and just again, we hope that continues.”
Guard Jalen Hudson acknowledged the players have had some meaningful dialogue of late, while keeping the details in-house.
“We talk a little bit amongst ourselves. I mean we have a group chat or whatever. It was a lot of stuff that kind of sparked [the turnaround]. A little bit of urgency. We’re in the final stretch,” he said.
As for Georgia, the Bulldogs’ only win in their last seven games was that victory over Florida. They’ve now been blown out in three straight contests, losing at Mississippi State (72-57), at Vanderbilt (81-66) and home against Auburn (78-61).
But they still have senior forward Yante Maten, who averages an SEC-best 19.4 points per game while ranking tied for second in the league with 8.7 rebounds per game. He had 20 points and 7 boards against the Gators in the last meeting.
“I’ve said this a bunch, you guys know how much we respect their program and Yante and his abilities — we could do a great job on him and he can get 18 and 10,” White said. “We’ve got to do the best we can on him and the rest of the roster.”
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