Mike Okauru

Guard Mike Okauru played seven minutes and didn't attempt a shot in the Gators' win against Alabama on Tuesday. 

Alan Alvarez de Sotomayor / Alligator Staff

Some things in life just puzzle me.

I could never solve a Rubik's cube, fill out a crossword puzzle or complete a game of Sudoku. For some reason, my mind couldn’t grasp the idea of what letters/numbers/tiles needed to go where.

My mind also can’t grasp why UF men’s basketball coach Mike White wouldn’t use Florida’s 73-52 win over Alabama on Tuesday as a chance to give Dontay Bassett, Mike Okauru and Deaundrae Ballard a chance to shine and continue growing.

I just don’t get it.

Over the past few weeks, White mentioned multiple times how he wants the freshmen to start earning playing time and gaining confidence.

“We're not a very deep team,” he said before the LSU game on Feb. 7. “We’ve got to somehow get a little deeper. We've got to infuse somehow a little bit of confidence in a couple of these freshmen to give us something.”

For the most part, he has been getting a lot out of his freshmen.

Across the month of February, White even took a step forward by getting Bassett, Okauru and Ballard significant minutes in every game. White has thrown his first-year players into the fire a bit more as the daunting conference schedule dragged on.

He has taken two steps back in furthering their progression. Florida held a lengthy lead against the Crimson Tide for the majority of Saturday’s game.

Bassett came off a career-high 24 minutes against Auburn on Saturday, the leader in the SEC standings. He scored 12 points, stole the ball twice and provided five offensive rebounds in the win.

How did he do against Alabama? Not well. He played for about five minutes. A guy who provided solid play against a five-loss team this late in the season reduced to the amount of minutes I can count on one hand.

What about Okauru? While his journey has been rocky throughout the season – he has seen less than a minute in some games and has played over 20 in others – February has seen the Raleigh, North Carolina, native work into a steady grove.

He averaged 14 minutes of play this month, much higher than his 9.9 average over the first 22 games of the season. Against the Crimson Tide, Okauru received seven minutes on the court and didn’t attempt a shot, scoring just one point off a free throw.

Ballard, who has seen his ups and downs in playing time this month, received the most minutes of the trio against Alabama. In 10 minutes of play, he made one basket on four attempts and collected two rebounds.

Before the matchup, he had just three games of double-digit minutes in February.

I’m not trying to point out the flaws in how these freshmen play or state that they need to do more to get noticed.

But if White is going to focus on trying to add some much-needed depth to the roster before the start of the SEC Tournament on March 7, he needs every opportunity he can get.

When your team is up by 20-plus points midway through the second half, start phasing Chris Chiozza, Kevarrius Hayes and Jalen Hudson out of the rotation and put Okauru, Bassett and Ballard in their place.

Jake Dreilinger is the Alligator’s assistant sports editor. Follow him on Twitter @DreilingerJake and contact him at [email protected].

Jake Dreilinger is the online sports editor of the Alligator and covers the University of Florida men's basketball team. He has previously covered baseball, lacrosse, men's and women's golf and women's tennis. He has worked at the paper since Fall 2015.