When Yante Maten drilled his second three-pointer in 12 seconds, another Florida lead died. The 11-point advantage the Gators built crumbled during a furious Georgia comeback, a loss Florida coach Mike White called as tough as any he’d experienced.
It certainly isn’t the first time a Mike White-led team has given up a late lead. Against Vanderbilt in the 2017 SEC Tournament, Commodores forward Jeff Roberson knotted up the game with nine seconds remaining. UF missed two chances to retake the lead and eventually lost in overtime.
While Florida (17-9, 8-5 SEC) beat Vanderbilt 81-74 in its first conference game this season on Dec. 30, it had lost all five matchups against the Commodores (10-16, 4-9 SEC) in White’s first two seasons. On Saturday at 4 p.m., the Gators will be in Nashville hoping to correct its mistakes with just five games left in the regular season.
As daunting as its final stretch may appear, it can’t be ignored that most of Florida’s conference losses this season have been against teams currently ranked in the bottom five of the SEC standings.
Ole Miss and South Carolina, both tied for 12th with a 4-9 SEC record and Georgia, tied for 10th with a 5-9 SEC record, have handed Florida its other four defeats in league play.
“There’s some great teams in college basketball,” White said, “and a handful of good teams that are great certain nights and very average other nights. And that’s what we are.”
The Commodores are coming off a win over Mississippi State in which senior guard Riley LaChance hit a three-pointer to win with 0.5 seconds remaining.
LaChance is Vanderbilt’s second-leading scorer, averaging 12.9 points per game. He also leads the Commodores in shooting from beyond the arc, with 57 made threes at a 40.4 percent clip.
Roberson leads Vanderbilt in both scoring (16.2 points per game) and rebounding (7.2 per game). Roberson dropped 18 points and seven boards against the Gators earlier this year.
Florida will look for guards Chris Chiozza and Jalen Hudson to get going after each suffered through off nights against Georgia. Chiozza struggled from the field, finishing with five points on 2-of-15 shooting. Hudson, the team’s leading scorer at 15.1 points per game, was held scoreless against the Bulldogs. It was the first game of the season in which Hudson hadn’t scored.
Potential help in the Gators’ backcourt may be found in freshman Mike Okauru, who had 14 points in 14 minutes off the bench in Wednesday’s loss.
White said it wasn’t just Okauru’s effort offensively that kept him on the court, though.
“(Okauru) guarded as well as our veterans,” he said.