#12 Florida Gators (24-6, 14-3 SEC) vs Vanderbilt Commodores (16-14, 9-8 SEC)
Nashville, Tennessee; Memorial Gym
Saturday March 4, 2017; 2 p.m. ET
Outside of a particular seeding in the NCAA there isn’t a whole lot to play for on Saturday. The SEC seeding as far as Florida is concerned is set, they know they are going to be in the NCAA Tournament, and it will take a lot of work in order to beat Vanderbilt on Saturday. The Commodores took Kentucky to the wire and led for most of the game on Tuesday against the Wildcats.
All of that shouldn’t matter. The Commodores came to Gainesville and was the only loss at home for the Gators all season. There should be a ton of pride on the line in this contest. That pride will have to push them through all of the work it is going to take to guard a group of five starters plus some off the bench that love to shoot the three-point shot, something they did in the 68-66 win over Florida making 10 of 25 shots.
“You’d hope to finish strong,” Florida head coach Mike White said Friday morning before his team prepared to fly to Nashville. “These guys require such mental focus and discipline to guard them. It will be disappointing if with one game left we don’t give it our all in that regard because it’s the only way to give yourself a chance to guard an intricate system and a system that is unique to the rest of the league with five guys with their ability to stretch the floor, five guys who can shoot it, make decisions, pass it. So our focus and our mental toughness and discipline have to be terrific. That’s what I’d like to see.”
The earlier Vanderbilt game was a turning point for the Gators on the season. It was the second part of a two game skid and one that the players and coaches thought just shouldn’t have happened. Having said that, the plan going in wasn’t a bad one, but the execution was.
The well documented team meeting happened after that game and the Gator s have won 10 of the last 11 contests and played the best basketball we have seen in a few years over a several game span.
“It definitely was a turning point,’ White said of the big loss. “We haven’t used that and maybe that’s a mistake of mine, to me, it’s a different game, they’re a different team, we’re a different team. I think the stage is just so different now, it’s our last game, it’s our last tune up, you still have an opportunity with some help, who knows what can happen, you have an opportunity to potentially get to 25 in the regular season which would be really special for this group, and opportunity to win at Vanderbilt, which is always very difficult.”
White says they will probably have the same plan, just hopefully be better prepared for what the commodores will throw at them. Including all the things 7-foot center Luke Kornet brings to the table.
“Not a lot of adjustments, just have to do a few things better,” he said. “We have to be a lot better offensively. They did a really good job with changing defenses and changing baseline out-of-bounds defenses. Kornet is maybe the best defender all around in our league. He’s terrific. He’s their anchor. He can stay in front of the ball and he alters shots from a distance with his instincts and his length. And at the rim he’s such a protector, of course. So we’ve got to be a lot better offensively (than last game). And defensively we had some good possessions we didn’t finish late in the game with (Jeff) Roberson just beasting us on the offensive glass a couple of times. He’s a terrific player. And then we had five or six miscommunications. Again, that’s that mental discipline, the communication that all led to baskets for those guys. They’re just really difficult to defend. They’re a better team than when they came in and beat us.”
White named Finalist for Naismith Award
It was announced Friday morning that White was named one of 10 finalists for the Werner Ladder Naismith Men’s College Coach of the Year Award. He is certainly deserving of the notoriety given the way his team has played this year. White was humbled by the gesture and deflected to the people around him.
“It means I’ve got a good team,” he said. “I’ve got good players, and my staff’s done a great job. I guess when you’re winning and when you’ve got a good team, things like that follow. I’m fortunate we’ve got a really good group of guys. Again, proud of the job that our staff’s done developing these guys, and the buy-in with this group’s been great. The culture that they’ve created in the locker room… it’s just been a fun thing to be a part of.”