The Gators looked like they were cruising to a win over Miami last season. Florida had a 33-21 lead at halftime and was dominating all facets of the game. That’s when Miami guard Angel Rodriguez woke up. Rodriguez, then a redshirt junior, torched the Gators for 24 points while going 5-8 from behind the three-point line. None were bigger than a three-pointer with 16 seconds left that gave the Hurricanes a one-point lead they would hold onto before a free throw pushed the final score to 69-67.
Devin Robinson is one of the three players on this year’s Florida roster that played in that game, joined by Chris Chiozza and Kasey Hill. The Gators were without Dorian Finney-Smith because of injury and needed his scoring. But the biggest memory is the lack of effort in the second half.
“We came out in the second half with big minds, big-headedness, took it for granted and they came back and took the game from us,” Robinson said. “We definitely don't want to let that happen again. We're going into this game with a different mentality knowing we've got to play a hard 40 minutes, so I mean it's definitely different from last year and I hope we get a better outcome."
This year is a new challenge. The Hurricanes (7-1) boast a starting lineup with three seniors and two juniors. Seven-foot center Tonye Jekiri is averaging 9.3 points and 10.3 rebounds while guards Sheldon McClellan and Javon Reed combine for 27.5 points per game.
But when the teams take the floor on Tuesday in Coral Gables, the Gators (6-1) will have all eyes on Rodriguez.
“It starts with knowing where he is at all times, and that’s collectively, not just the guy who is assigned to guard him, especially with the way that we play with switching some stuff in our man-to-man and throwing different defenses at you, a couple different presses at you,” Florida coach Mike White said. “We all need to know where Angel is for 40 minutes when you’re guarding Miami because he’s capable of stepping up, hitting a couple threes in transition as he did last year in the O’Dome and getting himself going. Wow was he unbelievable in that game.”
Miami is No. 13 in the country with 87.6 points per game and No. 13 in field goal percentage at 51.1 percent. The team is No. 12 in three-point percentage (42.5 percent) and No. 8 in free throw percentage (78.2 percent).
There’s not a lot Miami struggles with offensively. The good news for the Gators is that they’re coming off their strongest defensive effort of the season. Florida played well while holding Richmond to 33.9 percent from the field and just 56 points.
The Gators have also held every opponent under 63 points outside of their 85-70 loss to Purdue. White has seen his team buy in and improve on the defensive end.
“Physically, you better step up with incredible energy level and rebound the basketball and give attention to detail of the scouting report, defending their actions, our awareness of Angel Rodriguez, transition defense, all those things,” White said. “We’ve got a ton of respect for our opponent. This will be one of the best teams we play this year and we’re going to have to have a similar type performance as we did against Richmond -- and maybe even better in some areas.”