Antonio Blakeney (JOHN REED)

White has to see more from Gators on the defensive end

While the Florida Gators have lost five times this season, they haven’t lost many that would be labeled as bad losses. Florida has played a pretty tough schedule to start the season, but Saturday was a bit of a hard pill to swallow. Losing at home to Vanderbilt is the worst resume hit for this basketball squad and head coach Mike White wants to shake his team out the funk they are in.

#25 Florida Gators (14-5, 5-2 SEC) @ LSU Tigers (9-9, 1-6 SEC)

Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Pete Maravich Assemble Center

Wednesday January 25, 2017; 9 p.m. EST

TV: SEC Network

Long meetings and lots of one-on-one time with his team were called for after the Gators suffered their second loss in the row, in large part to a deficiency on the offensive end. But, against Vanderbilt, White saw something in his team that hit him even harder. His guys weren’t laying everything out there on the floor defensively, and he wants to change that quickly.

First thing is first and with the two game skid and not playing well during it, he made sure to check out the psyche of his players.

“A positive response,” he said about the way he felt his team responded at practice on Monday. “I liked our approach yesterday. We came in and gave the guys off Sunday to clear our minds and recharge physically.

“We talked to each guy individually and I liked the responses I got. We watched film on the Vandy game and met for a long time. I think it was productive. We’ll see how much carryover we have, but we were really sharp last night defensively in practice.

“That is where our focus needs to be. We need to recommit and refocus to defending at the level we are capable. Everything else will take care of itself.”

White called his team out in terms of them really letting the rankings maybe go to their head. Florida moved up to No. 19 in the polls last week, their highest ranking in a couple of years, but he didn’t think they necessarily belonged there just yet. Especially when the defense, of which they pride themselves, went south for a while.

“Not handling success very well,” he said was an issue. “We talked about that for a long time. We’re not a good enough team to think we’ve accomplished something, because somebody votes us to be in the Top 25… because we open league play with a big win at Arkansas. Really since then our defensive numbers have steadily declined. Our attention on that end hasn’t been the same.

“We’ve been fortunate in a couple of games where we beat a good opponent but we didn’t play up to our capability defensively. It’s not something you can play with. I am hopeful we can get back to that level.

“If our focus is right and sell back to it as opposed to coming into games with our focus on different things, with our focus into playing in front of our friends, and playing in front of the Rowdies, resting on our laurels and being overly comfortable because we’re at home and maybe we can beat these guys by making more jump shots than these guys. That’s not who we are. We’re capable of being really good defensively. We’ve show it at times and that is the challenge for our guys.”


Gators may be without Canyon Barry

Senior swing man Canyon Barry has been a big time force off the bench for most of the season, but he may require some time off in order to heal an injury incurred in practice on Monday.

“He’s questionable,” White said of Barry in terms of playing in the LSU game Wednesday night. “Duke (Werner) thought a couple of hours ago that it was 50/50 whether he plays or not. He sprained it, it was swelling. He was off to a good start in practice too. I am disappointed for him and our team. He sprained it on a score. He went to the basket and a floater and landed on somebody’s foot.

“I am glad Duke thought that there was maybe an outside chance that he plays. Hopefully we aren’t looking at extensive time that he can’t play.”


The Game…

The Gators face LSU Wednesday and the Tigers will be without star forward Craig Victor who was released from the team in December due to violation of team rules. The struggling Tigers are certainly a different team without him.

“I think Victor was a good player for them and presented some toughness and physicality for those guys, but they’ve adjusted to that,” White said. “Their starting four (Aaron Epps) and five (Duop Reath) are talented guys. I’m not sure they’re as good a rebounding team, I’m not quite sure if we lost our leading rebounder… we’d have to find a way to get it done by committee.”


Make no mistake, as much as they have struggled, the Tigers are a very talented squad.  

“Now you’ve got at their 4-5, two guys that can post, they can offensive rebound, can drive it, and can shoot the three,” White said. “Their front line is talented. The guards are talented. (Antonio) Blakeney and (Brandon) Sampson are two of the most athletic and explosive guys in the league. Two of the guys in my opinion that you throw in that could compete with most of the guys in the league in terms of being able to create their own shot. Skyler Mayes is emerging as a big, long, talented, freshman point guard.  They really have a lot of weapons.”


Match Up…

The Tigers’ defense may be just what the doctor ordered for the Gators. LSU is last in most of the defensive stats so far this season and are giving up 79.5 points per game, almost 13 more than the gators are giving up on average this season. Individually they are a very talented bunch, but haven’t been able to play well as a team for most of the year. Because of that talent, they can beat a lot of teams, but the Gators are normally a very good defensive unit and should make it hard for LSU’s middle of the road SEC offense to score much.

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