Gators' Senior Night vs Kentucky

The games don’t get much bigger than having Senior Night and playing the Kentucky Wildcats on your home floor. The Gators will honor two seniors Tuesday and will be fighting to finish the season on a high note including a possible trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Florida Gators (17-12, 8-8 SEC) @ #22/19 Kentucky Wildcats (21-8, 11-5 SEC)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016; 7 p.m.

Gainesville, Florida; Stephen C. O’Connell Center


With just two games left in the season the Gators are out of possibilities for claiming the SEC regular season title. But, there is still a lot to play for.

The first thing at hand is honoring the two seniors on Florida’s roster. Dorian Finney-Smith, who is a pivotal part of anything successful the Gators have been through this and other seasons, will get his time on the court before the game where he will be joined by family. Alex Murphy will be honored as well. Murphy had much promise in an up and down the court system like head coach Mike White teaches at Florida, but a foot ailment kept him from producing and he has played sparingly this season and none since the start of the New Year.

For White, Finney-Smith has meant a ton in his first year on the job at Florida.

“I’m sure Coach Donovan and the previous staff would do a much better job of articulating what he’s meant to the program over the long haul,” White said when asked about Finney-Smith. “I can only speak to the fact he was part of a Final Four team and had a lot of personal success on that team.

Jim Dedmon / USA TODAY Sports
 “Going back to last summer, when I started and had an opportunity to work with him… he’s come a long way in the last 8-9 months in terms of his consistency and ability to lead. I think even from our first few games to now, I think he is a much better player than he was even in October. I don’t think the numbers really indicate that. I think he’s been so much of a focal point against really good Southeastern Conference teams that spend the majority of their scouting report on him.”

Finney-Smith was a double-double monster in the early part of the SEC schedule but as White alluded, defenses started taking things away from him and double teaming a lot when he had the ball. Still, his growth as a player allowed him to help others around when he was getting the double teams.  

“Even when he has a 1-7 night for us, he has found ways to help us in other areas,” White said. “He’s a very versatile defender and a stat sheet stuffer. He’s interchangeable defensively and offensively, he’s been good on the offensive glass. He’s been good at drawing fouls, he’s been a good passer for us, and he’s had a solid senior season.”

Murphy was sideswiped by a foot injury that has been too painful to play on. In the meantime, he’s helped in more ways than most of us will know.  

“I don’t think there is any chance he suits up,” White said. “In this difficult season Alex has given everything he’s had in terms of positive energy and utilizing his communication and leadership skills. He’s been great from the bench. He’s tried to help this team in any way he’s been able to do so.”


Florida Projected Starters

Ht. / Wt.



F Devin Robinson (SO)

6-8, 195



F Dorian Finney-Smith (SR)

6-8, 220



C John Egbunu (SO)

6-11, 255



G KeVaughn Allen (FR)

6-2, 183



G Chris Chiozza (SO)

6-0, 175




Kentucky Projected Starters




F Alex Poythress (SR)

6-8, 230



F Marcus Lee (JR)

6-9, 224



G Tyler Ulis (JR)

5-9, 160



G Isaiah Briscoe (FR)

6-3, 202



G Jamal Murray (FR)

6-4, 207


Now the Gators must rebound from another slow start in Baton Rouge Saturday where they fought back twice and were almost able to get the win. They have a tougher opponent in Kentucky, this go around and White knows they have to start faster.

“Guys were down of course,” White said about the loss to LSU. “It was an opportunity to take advantage and we got off to a really slow start. These guys are a really compliant group. We’ve had no issue with these guys off the floor. It’s a team that puts in a lot of work and (Sunday) was no different. They got after each other and it makes you wonder where the intensity level was in the first 10 minutes of the game in Baton Rouge. Hopefully it will carry over to (Tuesday).

The defensive side of the ball has been the issue of late. Florida shot 53% in the game at LSU and 43% from the three point line. But, they allowed the Tigers to shoot 54% from the field and get to the lane way too much to draw fouls.

Kentucky will bring even more ability to the floor and for the Gators. They have to stop freshman guard Jamal Murray. In an 80-61 loss that may not have been as close as that score indicates, Murray went off for 35 points including 8-10 from the three point line.

“It’s really pretty simple,” White started on how to stop Murray. “It’s easier said than done because they do a good job of setting screens for him and he is so good off of the ball as a cutter and as a user of screens. He can get a shot off so quickly. First and foremost we have to know where he is. You can’t over-help.

“His whereabouts are of the utmost importance in transition defense, loose ball offensive rebounding situations. We need to run him off of the three point line… that is no secret. We just did a subpar job of doing that in Lexington. We need to do a much better job on Jamal Murray before we can do anything else.”

The Gators hope the home crowd helps, but White knows they have to get back to the style of defense they were playing before these two teams met the last go around. Since that game, things have gone south on the defensive end. That includes not letting all-conference point guard Tyler Ulis drive the lane where he can score or distribute very well.

“Our formula has to be… we have to defend our butts off,” White said with simplicity. “We have to keep Ulis out of the paint, do a better job of that. We have to limit the opportunities he has in the paint. We have to do a better job of blocking out.

“It starts with Jamal Murray. He took some HORSE shots in Lexington. We can’t make 10 mistakes on him… we have to limit those mistakes. He is going to get a couple, it’s what they do. They execute well. They set screens. They are a good passing team.”

The Gators also have to protect the ball and be able to run their offense. Florida had only 10 turnovers against Kentucky in game one, but they also allowed Ulis to really stifle them defensively.

“Ulis is terrific at getting guys shots,” White said. “We have to limit those opportunities. Our transition defense has to be off the charts. Offensively the biggest thing with us as of late is turning the ball over. Against Ulis in Lexington, he set the tone and had us rattled defensively. As good as he is offensively, he was as much as anyone we have faced this year, as big a factor defensively in that game. He can’t be as big a factor tomorrow.

“We have to free our point guards up somehow. We have to create better ball screens, set ball screens. Create away from the ball a little more and get him away from the basketball.”

The Gators just need a more competent game offensively and defensively than the first showing. It starts in the backcourt where Chris Chiozza had a hard time going just 1-8 in the contest and scoring three points. But, this all doesn’t fall on Chiozza. They all have to perform better than that day.

“We all had a really tough day up there,” White said. “No one played very well and Kentucky had everything to do with that, led by Ulis, who I think is as good as anyone in the Southeastern Conference.

“I don’t think Chris looked overly confident, but I don’t think anyone else did either. We have to play with a little more confidence (Tuesday). But, it’s hard to say ‘guys go play confident’. I am sure if we make our first five shots we will be more confident. We have to get off to a better start than we have as of lately.”


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