You can see it on television, but if you are ever at the floor level of the playing surface that Mike White’s Florida Gators play on, you really get a feel for the energy and effort his guys give just about every second on the floor.
Even in the last loss to Vanderbilt, which seems like a month ago but really only a little more than a week ago, White’s Gators flew around and played tireless throughout the contest.
They sometimes come up short on the offensive end and being able to put the ball in the basket, but if you were to pick a team to go into battle with from the defensive end, move over Virginia, you better take Florida.
White has a group of savages on defense. They aren’t perfect, but they force more mistakes on teams than anyone else out there. And he couldn’t be more ready to share his appreciation.
“I'm really proud,” he said following the big win over Virginia Saturday night that propelled them into the round of 16 of the NCAA Tournament. “I guess I'll get that out of the way. It's a group I've been proud of all year. I mean, this group, we might miss some shots. We might mess up some execution. We might have a lack of communication or an error in following the scouting report from time to time or what have you, but this group plays really hard. They play for each other. They play the right way.”
All we have heard about in the last two days is Virginia and their defense, all we saw Saturday was how Florida was the better defensive team.
“I think anyone that would have watched us play tonight would recognize how hard my guys play defensively,” White said. “They're bought into it. They're about the right stuff, whether they get 2 points or 12 points. They're going to continue to guard.
Virginia swing man London Perrantes felt the wrath of the Gator defense. The Cavs sharp shooter was just 2-of-12 from the field and missed all four of his three point shots. White was quick to credit his two point guards Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza because of what he asks them to do on the defensive end and got accomplished Saturday night against Perrantes and the Cavs.
“Those two guys have been a terrific job all year utilizing their speed and quickness and toughness,” he said of the dynamic guard duo, “Again, those guys, you've heard me say it a lot here recently, those guys have become tough-nosed defenders. They take pride in it now, and at times we can even alternate them on really good players that are anywhere from, heck, 5'8" to 6'3", 6'4", depending on the matchup.
“Despite their size, with their speed and quickness and toughness, it allows them some versatility in guarding guys off of the ball. Virginia does a terrific job with ball screens for London, but also setting a ton of screens off of the ball for him as well. They have played that role for us all year defending high-level guards coming off a million screens in SEC play, and they've always stepped up to the challenge.
The Gators had a terrific run 2/3 of the way through the season rolling off nine wins in a row with several 30 and 20-point wins in the mix. Defense was always a big part of that, but White does feel they took an extra step forward Saturday. He hasn’t seen them stay focused after getting those big leads in several weeks.
“That's about as well as we've played defensively,” he said. “We put a lot of it together tonight. I'm really proud of the defensive effort, the focus, the lock-in. Especially when we got up, I don't know, say, 16, we didn't have a drop-off, and we've had that four or five times this year. We didn't have it tonight.”