Gators change up practice for defensive intensity

Having lost their defensive edge, Florida head coach Mike White is going back to the formula that was working earlier in the season.

It’s been a tough season of ups and downs for the Florida Gator basketball team. Heading in the right direction at the beginning of the SEC part of the schedule, White was looking for a way to jump start an offense that was all but anemic for most of the year.

The change then was to spend more time on the offensive side of the ball in practice in hopes that it would jump start the scoring for the Gators. There were other reasons as well to do this. His team was tiring and less defensive work in practice would be less tiring on his team, but most important was to just concentrate on the offensive side to improve that part.

“I would say we were probably spending 60-70% on defense until about a month ago,” White said Monday as his team prepares for league leading Kentucky. “At that point we thought as a staff that the grind of the season, the lack of days off, complemented by the fact we were defending at such a high level… let’s back off and spend 30-40% defense. Let’s get them in a stance a little less, spend less time pounding, bone on bone competition stuff, and spend more time on how we can score.

“Have we gotten better offensively in the last month? Yeah, but there isn’t enough time in the day. It’s a long season and these guys are tired right now. Kentucky’s tired, and everybody’s tired. It is that balance and sometimes you appreciate those decisions and sometimes you regret those decisions a little bit. We just haven’t been as good defensively lately and to what detriment does that do to us offensively?  We’ll find out.

It is a new roster for White and as much as he has had almost a whole season to figure things out, a decision like he made was one he now regrets.

“I have put that on me,” he said. “This is a team that just really struggled offensively all season. Our job as a staff is to help these guys with basketball but teaching them life lessons is as important as anything as we do. Holding yourself accountable is one of the biggest lessons these guys can take away from this program.

I put it on myself for searching offensively and getting a ton of shots. The emphasis has probably moved toward the offense too much. We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time shooting free throws, taking up practice time by running dry offense, by shooting a ton of offense… skill development.

“(Sunday) 100% of the practice was defense. (Monday) we’ll spend more time on defense as well. It is always a balancing act and we have to get back at defending at a high level if we have a chance.”

You would hope as a coach that your team could rely on the lessons they learned early in the season to lead them through as they try and adjust to making adjustments on offense. It isn’t as if they forgot, but the change in intensity level in practice has changed the intensity level at the start of games it appears.

“Until about three weeks ago that was the one thing we were hanging our hats on,” White said about the defense. “The big search for us offensively has probably taken away from that focus. That is my fault.

“We’ll play hard (against Kentucky). I have no doubts about that. It’s a huge opportunity for us. It’s senior night, the last game in the O’Dome for a while. It’s the Kentucky Wildcats. We’ll come out and do the right things. We have a good group of guys that continue to work. For us it is going to be about following that scouting report offensively, be extremely locked in, and hopefully finding some success early in the game offensively to give us a little boost with our confidence.”

Getting Allen back on track…

One thing that White and his staff continue to focus on is getting KeVaughn Allen untracked again offensively. With the limitations in terms of offensive skill from some of his players, Allen is a guy that definitely has it and needs to utilize it for this team to be successful. Just a freshman, Allen has drawn the attention of opposing defenses which has made things difficult as well.

“I’m not sure if it’s a freshman being this far into the season and being mentally and physically fatigued, as much as it is him being in a shooting funk or teams doing a good job of defending him,” White said of Allen. “I think it’s probably a combination of it all.”

White knows they have to continue to push their star freshman if they want to have more success as the season winds down.

“My staff and I have got to continue to search for ways to continue to get him good looks,” White said. “We have to get him back going. He is so capable and very talented. At some point I have faith he will snap out of it and have a big game in the not too distant future. Hopefully that is tomorrow night.

Big game Tuesday…

Florida hosts Kentucky Tuesday night at 7 p.m. The Wildcats are the league leader and the perennial favorites in the SEC. The Gators are still on a quest for the NCAA tournament as well and a win Tuesday would mean a lot for that goal.

“It is huge,” White said of the contest with the Wildcats. “We’ve squandered some opportunities and this is one of the last few we’ll have. This is a big, big opportunity for our guys to overcome some mistakes and failures. It will be a very difficult game to win, but if we play really well, we’re at home, we should have our chances.”

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