Gators going passive-aggressive on the road

The best defensive team in the SEC uses all kinds of defensive tactics in a game, but look for Florida head coach Mike White to slow things down in the full court during road games.

The Gators tallied six fouls in just the first five minutes of play in the loss to Texas A&M on Tuesday. That led to the Aggies getting to the free throw line for 30 shots and also led to two of the team leaders to play a lot of game time with four fouls.

White wants to avoid both of those issues by slowing things down a little bit. He did that as the game progressed Tuesday and the defense actually improved.

“We’ve been less aggressive lately,” White told the Florida media on Thursday, a couple of days before heading off to play his Alma Mater Ole Miss. “In coming off a road game in Texas A&M where we pressed less and had more defensive success. We are probably more bound to follow along those lines to try and set our half-court defense to try and avoid some foul trouble on the road.

The Gators go deep on the bench and play a lot of different guys, but he believes his depth can even play better if they mix things up.

“It’s hard to match that level of intensity when you aren’t in front of the Rowdies,” he said about playing on the home court in Gainesville. “We want to press, we just have to pick our spots and be smart about it. Those other factors will be included in those decisions in terms of how hard we are playing, how much energy we’re playing with, whether or not we have guys on the floor in foul trouble or not, the flow of the game, how well they respond to being pressed… for the most part we are going to try and I am sure we are going to end up trying it at Ole Miss.”

Maybe the biggest issue for this team has been free throws. As a team the Gators shoot a paltry 60.6% from the field. White is doing everything he can think of to try and get them out of the slump.

“I can’t imagine there is a team that shoots more fatigue free throws in practice and in between live segments in the country,” White said. “I am doing way more free throw shooting in practice than I’ve ever done.”

“We have a drill called 80% and for two minutes our entire team has to shoot 80%. It is always after a period where they are winded. We haven’t had one time in the last two-three weeks where we haven’t made it in every one of those segments. Early on (in the season) we rarely made it.

“We are shooting well in practice. You just hope it carries over to games.”

White joked about trying something new.  

“A lot of it is just trial and error,” he said. “I’ve tried not to make it too mental. I don’t know if we can shoot them worse than we are shooting them now. I may just get to the point when a guy is walking to the free throw line and I just yell at them, ‘you better make this free throw or you’re coming out of the game’. Maybe that will be a motivator. It is worth trying.

Francis-Ramirez fighting freshman funk…

Redshirt freshman guard Brandone Francis-Ramirez has struggled a great deal shooting the ball, something he was brought to Florida to do. White is quick to defender his freshman saying that the young man works extremely hard.

“More than anything it is just being a freshman,” White says of the slump. “Coming into the year we had two freshmen two-guards, that or play really, really big, or really, really small. The only two guys we thought were natural two’s were him and KeVaughn. KeVaughn has had some freshman moments too. But he’s also had some moments where he has looked like a potential star out there. Brandone has just gotten less opportunity because of the moments that KeVaughn has been really good.

“If you look at the numbers, Brandone has really struggled to shoot the basketball. Early on in the season in practice he really shot it well. He hasn’t matched that since. He’s just going through that freshman funk. He’s struggled at times defensively in games… like all of our other inexperienced guys.”

It isn’t easy for a guy to get back in the game enough that doesn’t produce. It is just the nature of the beast.  

“Unfortunately if you aren’t stepping up or making shots to overcome some of those things and you have a couple of guys playing better than you it’s hard to get back in the rotation,” White said. “To his credit he continues to work. We had a meeting with Brandone last week and the last few practices he’s brought it. I expect him to bring it today. Just be prepared, if and when, his number is called.”

White says that Francis-Ramirez hasn’t let his offensive output affect his defensive game.

“I think he’s better defensively today, significantly better than he was six weeks ago,” White said. “Keith Stone is better and he is redshirting. Justin Leon is way better than a couple of months ago. It’s just understanding our system and the intensity and playing the high major teams.”

“I think the biggest factor for Brandone lately is we started playing the two point guards together a little bit. Then KeVaughn has a couple of big games, so he’s had a little more benefit of the doubt. Even at Texas A&M he only played 18 minutes. But, you continue to throw him back out there because you’ve seen what he’s capable of, especially when you are struggling to score.”

Junior college transfer Justin Leon has come on strong in SEC ply and White says they knew all along he could play at this level after getting a release from his scholarship at Louisiana Tech.

“When Justin asked for his release from his letter of intent at Louisiana Tech, we called his junior college coach and he talked about the other SEC schools that were calling in there,” White said. “I believe we had two available scholarships at the time. When we called to see what his interest level was, he jumped at the opportunity.

“There was no doubt in our minds he would be a contributor at this level, absolutely no doubt. I will be honest… I didn’t expect in his first few SEC games to be arguably one of our better scorers in those first few games. I didn’t expect and count on him getting 16 against an SEC opponent in one of his first SEC opponents, but did we expect him to play extremely hard and be a great program guy and be one of our tougher guys?  Absolutely. He hasn’t let down in any of those areas.

“He has gotten here and taken advantage of the gym and the access and the managers and gotten a ton of shots up. He’s improved a little bit offensively to go with being a very good defender and rebounder, (and) he’ll only continue to get better at.”

White like’s Hills defensive tenacity…

Despite being able to shoot the ball effectively, Kasey Hill stays on the court for these Florida Gators because of the other things he does on the court.

“I think Kasey continues to work,” White said. “He’s one of our most experienced guys. At some point you have to think the work is going to pay off for the kid. He’s struggling with shooting percentages, but he also the other day at A&M gets six big rebounds for a little guy. He’s using his speed and quickness. He’s getting hands on basketballs. He’s creating havoc defensively. I am really pleased with his effort and how hard he is playing. You just have to have faith that at some point these percentages, not only with him, but other guys, will increase. We need them to increase for us to improve offensively.”

The Gators travel to Oxford on Saturday to take on Ole Miss at 8 p.m. and can be seen live on ESPN2.

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