Florida Gators focusing on defense

Defensive breakdowns hurt Florida in a 15-point loss to Purdue on Sunday.

Florida didn’t take a look at the scouting report for Vermont until 24 hours before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. game. There was too much that needed attention on the defensive end of the floor. After returning late Sunday from the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic in Connecticut, the Gators spent all day Monday focusing on their defensive breakdowns.

Their struggles came mostly in ball screen defense breaking down and allowing Purdue to hit open shots. When the Boilermakers got open for three, they shot 42.3 percent (11-26). Transition defense was also an issue for Florida. Purdue only had six fast break points, but it took advantage of beating the Gators in the open floor to create open shots, even if they didn’t all go down.

“A little bit of everything,” Florida coach Mike White said about his team’s defense. “We weren’t glaringly bad in any one area. We were just OK in all areas. Against a really good offensive team, we needed a better defensive effort than that. Not to take anything away from Purdue and how potent they are offensively.”

Communication was a key problem for the Gators. When trying to defend Purdue on fast breaks, the Florida players weren’t talking enough. It was just as bad in the half court defense.

Florida center John Egbunu takes pride as being the team’s vocal leader on the floor. He bought into White’s message of being vocal since he can usually see what’s happening in front of him and help out his teammates. It’s easy to hear Egbunu’s voice bounce off the walls of the O’Connell Center when the Gators are at home, but he let that slip up in Connecticut. The goal is to fix things on Wednesday against Vermont.

"Just doing our jobs,” Egbunu said. “I think personally, making sure I'm calling out the right coverages and I'm guarding my man and guarding the point guard coming off of the ball screen because ball screens were a big issue for us. I’m just making sure I'm doing those things and for the whole team, just making sure we're all doing our jobs, boxing out and taking care of things we need to take care of."

White has been happy with Florida’s rebounding, but that took a step back on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor against Purdue. The Boilermakers’ size gave them some mismatches on the floor, and it was too much for the Gators to overcome.

White’s message was for everyone on the team. Egbunu and Dorian Finney-Smith had the two best games in the box score, as Egbunu had 19 points and seven rebounds and Finney-Smith 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. While they were able to impact the game in different ways, White wasn’t happy with their defense.

“Dorian struggled defensively,” White said. “He had some breakdowns. He was caught in the interior a few times and lost some of those battles. He’s got to be super for us. I’m asking a lot of him, in every aspect of the game. Our whole team is. I wouldn’t go as far to say he had a great game for us.

“Same thing with John Egbunu. John posted some numbers. It’s good to see those guys offensively give us numbers, but they have to be equally effective defensively for us. And some other guys, at least they had good games offensively. But some guys, our staff -- led by me -- we have to be a lot better than we were the other night.” 

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