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Thursday, June 01, 2023

Florida basketball struggling to avoid complacency after wins

<p>Florida's Kasey Hill attempts a layup during UF's 95-63 win over Auburn on Jan. 23, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.</p>

Florida's Kasey Hill attempts a layup during UF's 95-63 win over Auburn on Jan. 23, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.

After watching his team crumble on Saturday, Kasey Hill didn't mince words on Monday.

"You got to take it personally," Hill said of Florida's lackluster performance against then-No. 20 Kentucky. "Everybody has to take it personal."

While there were plenty of open shots for UK’s Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis over the weekend, there were fewer opportunities for members of Florida’s offense.

The Gators failed to reach the double-digit scoring mark until about halfway through the first half, falling into a 19-point deficit as early as six and a half minutes into the game and consistently leaving the Wildcats’ best players unguarded.

UF (15-8, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) will try to improve on Saturday's performance when they face guard Stefan Moody and Ole Miss tonight at 9 in the O'Connell Center.

But, as porous as UF’s defense was on Saturday, there have also been several instances this season when Florida has suffocated its opponent on the road, like against Michigan State in its ninth game of the season.

It was the first of many tests to come for a young, still-meshing Florida team. In some ways they passed the test, only losing to the then-No. 1 Spartans by six points.

Mike White remembers praising his players after the loss and lauding their effort, intensity and consistency.

"It feels like five years ago now," White said of the loss to Michigan State in December.

While few expected Florida to upset the Wildcats on Saturday — a team that hasn’t surrendered a home loss since Feb. 27, 2014 — there were expectations that a Florida team that had won five of their last six games would put up a quality fight, like they did against MSU.

But they didn’t.

"Obviously some teams, the more you lose, the hungrier you get and the more upset you get," White said. "We were a team that… had probably gotten a little bit comfortable."

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On Monday, White said the Gators have had trouble pushing complacency aside after wins.

The Gators have lost four times in conference play, but never back-to-back, and never at home. And in the four games prior to each of UF’s four conference losses, the Gators have mostly shot the ball well, compiling 42.3-percent, 38.1-percent, 56.9-percent and 51.0-percent clips from the field. In the games after the Gators' SEC losses, UF has averaged a 46.7-shooting percentage, almost four points above its season average.

"It’s easier to dig deep for a ton of energy and added motivation if you’re coming off a couple of losses," White said.

Earlier in the season, above-average shooting nights were hard to come by for Florida, and against elite opponents, a lock-down defensive performance was required to win games.

But, since the start of SEC play, the Gators have improved offensively.

UF has shot 36.6 percent from three-point range, up from a 27.4-percent clip against non-conference teams.

Florida’s points per game have also increased during conference play — the Gators have scored 74.5 points against SEC opponents as opposed to 73.2 beforehand.

The Gators’ field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and assists per game have all also improved, which makes their single-game struggles every so often even more puzzling.

Florida lost on Jan. 6 against Tennessee, on Jan. 12 at Texas A&M, on Jan. 26 against Vanderbilt and on Saturday against Kentucky after convincingly winning each matchups’ previous game. Against Ole Miss (15-8, 5-5 SEC) tonight, Florida will again try to bounce back from a disappointing loss.

"We just own up to our mistakes," Hill said, "and take it as a challenge."

Contact Ian Cohen at and follow him on Twitter @icohenb

Florida's Kasey Hill attempts a layup during UF's 95-63 win over Auburn on Jan. 23, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.

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