Gators start tough February with Missouri

Call it the calm before the storm, but don’t let Mike White hear that. Florida’s head basketball coach and his team have a date with Missouri on Thursday and it is one that can’t be overlooked. The conference winless Tigers come to Gainesville and they bring a bruising style of play. White believes his team won’t overlook them for a tough road ahead in February.

 

#23 Florida Gators (16-5, 6-2) vs. Missouri Tigers (5-15, 0-8)

February 2, 2017; 7 p.m.

Gainesville, Florida; Exactech Arena

TV: ESPN2

With an already tough schedule behind them and a tough one still ahead, White felt like his team needed a little break. With a Saturday-Thursday game schedule this week, he was able to find the time to give his players an extra day off so they can recharge their batteries.

“In reading postseason notes last year and getting thoughts from staffs, support staff, we feel like we wanted to find an opportunity this year to give two consecutive days so we could get really rejuvenated mentally and physically,” White told the Florida media on Tuesday. “And we actually did that the last couple of days. It’s the only time we’ve done it this season since Christmas I believe the holiday break and it’s the only opportunity we would have had from now until the end of the season. So our guys, other than weights and individual workouts yesterday, we’ve had two days without a real practice and we’ll get back at it today. Hopefully it helps. We’ll see.”

The Gators are coming off of two record setting 30+ point wins where they shot better than they have in recent memory. As much as White likes to think the offensive game has taken a few steps forward, he still attributes the success to defense and moving the ball around.

”I contribute it, first off, to better ball movement,” he said about the big shooting nights against Oklahoma and LSU on the road. “I think some of those open shots at LSU started because we got stops, we got out on the open floor. A few of them early were in transition offense, and then you gotta credit our passers.

“You gotta credit our bigs sometimes as we run a lot of ball screen actions, a lot of pick and roll. When those bigs can do a good job of freeing up our guards and the opposing team's bigs have to help for a second or two, sometimes guys get sucked in defensively and our guards have done a pretty good job of finding the open guy and also making pretty good passes, hitting guys in their shooting pockets.”

“Again, it was about defending at a high level to start. I was pleased with our defensive intensity and focus to start. We got some stops. It was ugly there for a little bit, reminded me of the South Carolina game where both teams are struggling to score and then we broke through with a couple open looks that we took advantage of. We're a pretty good shooting team. We're not a great shooting team, but if we keep focusing on getting stops from the jump, hopefully we can continue falling into some open looks."

The Gators would love to continue their success as they face Missouri Thursday, but they will likely do so without the help of redshirt freshman forward Keith Stone. White has developed a deep bench this season, but losing parts like Stone doesn’t allow all the versatility he would like.

“I’m not sure he's doing real well,” White said of Stone. “I don't expect him to practice today. He saw a specialist yesterday. He's seeing someone again today. Let's hope it's not too serious. I guess it's serious enough to keep him out here for an extended period. Like to have him back soon.”

Scout

Not only does White have to worry about his team because they don’t seem to play as well at home as they do on the road, he has to worry about his team facing a Missouri squad that has won five games all season and is winless in SEC play. Oh yeah, Kentucky comes to town on Saturday as well.

“They are not going to overlook Thursday or they are going to be sitting by me,” White said with a stern look about the subject. “We’re going to find five guys that are really excited to play Missouri.

The Tigers are a ‘bring your lunch pail’ type of group, and he believes they bring everything they have when they matchup.

“Missouri has been very competitive,” White said. “I understand that they’ve struggled in some areas, they’ve struggled to score at times, to get over the hump at times. They play as hard as anyone in our league. They really defend with a really young lineup, which says something about what Kim and his staff are doing. They fight you on every possession. We’re not good enough period, and even if we were, it wouldn’t matter …We’re gonna have a good practice today and we're gonna come back tonight. It's not about — if I hear Kentucky from one of our players, they may not play. We are preparing for Missouri."

White regularly describes the team

White regularly describes his team’s biggest weakness as defensive rebounding. Missouri lives for rebounds and are going to make the Gators work for everything with their big lineup.

”Physicality is gonna be a factor,” he said. “They're starting four and five are big, strong, tough dudes that look like they could be on the football field. They throw their bodies around, both offensively and defensively. Dusty's got the scouting and made a point that they're physical drivers. Some guys are really physical, but you wouldn't categorize them as overly physical when they have the ball in their hands. These guys just understand how to create contact, how to maintain contact, how to draw fouls. So we got to be prepared in those facets and also be prepared with their physicality to block them out, to fight through block-outs, to get to the offensive glass a little bit. That's one of their strengths."


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