More than three quarters of the way through a season filled with highs and lows, the Florida men’s basketball team faces Georgia tonight at 9 in the O’Connell Center in the teams’ second meeting of the year. The Gators (17-8, 8-4 SEC) fell 72-60 at Georgia (13-11, 4-8 SEC) on Jan. 30, their second of three straight SEC losses, but enter tonight’s matchup riding momentum from convincing wins over LSU and South Carolina. Here are three things to look for in tonight’s rematch, which will air on the SEC Network.
South Carolina guard Frank Booker sprinted toward the basket on a fastbreak opportunity midway through the second half. With no one in his sig…
(1) Georgia’s Yante Maten
The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Maten appears to be on his way to a third-straight All-SEC selection, despite the Bulldogs being a middle-of-the-pack SEC team. The senior forward is having a career season, leading the league in scoring (19.4 points per game) while pulling down the third-most rebounds (8.7 per game).
In UGA's first game against Florida, Maten led all players with 20 points, made all five of his free throw attempts and pulled down seven rebounds in 31 minutes of action.
Florida coach Mike White said he doesn’t anticipate making a lot of changes to his team’s game plan this time around. Instead, he wants to see the Gators compete with more energy than they did the last time they faced the Bulldogs.
“The game at Georgia isn’t the only one that we’ve lacked in those areas,” White said. “It’s kind of who we’ve been.”
(2) Florida’s defense
Fresh off one of its best performances of the Mike White era — holding South Carolina to 41 points on Saturday — Florida’s defense is looking to clamp down on a Georgia offense that outscored the Gators 24-9 over the final 10:29 of the two teams' previous matchup.
Bulldogs guards William Jackson II (16 points) and Juwan Parker (12 points) helped Maten keep the Gators' defense on its heels, something UF will look to avoid tonight.
“We put a big emphasis on guarding Yante Maten,” Florida guard Jalen Hudson said. “So much of an emphasis that we let their guards kind of get free and do whatever they want.”
Hudson and White said the team has spent a lot of time focusing on defense this week. While it was encouraging to see his players shut down South Carolina on Saturday, White said what really matters is for the team to maintain its elevated levels of defensive energy moving forward.
“I don’t want to act like this is a new season and we’ve got it all figured out,” White said. “Let’s see if we can get it three games in a row.”
(3) White trying different lineups
Junior guard KeVaughn Allen started 22 of UF’s first 23 games but has come off the bench in the Gators’ last two contests against LSU and South Carolina. Allen has struggled to find a rhythm in a guard-heavy rotation featuring new additions in Hudson and graduate transfer Egor Koulechov, the top two scorers on the team.
White said that Hudson, Florida’s sixth man in 10 of the previous 12 games, started in Allen’s place against LSU as discipline for Allen being late to the team’s shootaround. But after a 73-64 victory over the Tigers, White elected to start Hudson again against the Gamecocks.
White has also started to rely on his second unit more and more as the season has gone on. He said the team's younger players have gotten better at playing their roles and bringing enough intensity to the court.
Hudson said giving the bench a longer leash is good for the team and said he felt encouraged knowing there isn't any drop off when the subs come in.
“When you play guys and everybody gets their turn, you get more confident,” he said.