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Friday, April 12, 2024

Mike White to return to Gainesville as Florida is set to host Georgia

White will face his former team for the second time in Gainesville

Mike White leads a team huddle Feb. 19. His Gators face the Texas A&M Aggies Thursday in the SEC Tournament.
Mike White leads a team huddle Feb. 19. His Gators face the Texas A&M Aggies Thursday in the SEC Tournament.

On March 25, 2017, former Gators men’s basketball guard Chris Chiozza hit one of the biggest shots in Florida basketball history. With four seconds to play against the Wisconsin Badgers in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, Chiozza took the ball from his own baseline and quickly dribbled past half court. 

With 1.2 seconds left, he jumped off of his left foot, barely behind the 3-point line, and sank in the buzzer-beating 3 to send the Gators to the Elite Eight. 

Former Florida head coach Mike White didn’t react like his team. He didn’t jump or run onto the court to celebrate. Instead, he raised his fist into the air, relieved of moving on in March Madness. 

Saturday, White will look to raise his fist in the air in relief of winning his fifth SEC game. But this time, he’ll look to defeat the Gators as head coach of arch-rival Georgia, where White is currently in his second season with the Bulldogs. He returns for the second time back to Gainesville when the Bulldogs meet the Gators in the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. 

“This is going to be a tough game tomorrow,” current head coach Todd Golden said Friday. “He’s going to have his team ready to go, coming back here. Obviously, there’s an extra added element for him coming back here and we got to be ready to go.”

Despite Florida falling in the 2017 Elite Eight, there was hope among Gator fans. Hope of Florida basketball continuing its storied legacy, even though it lost Billy Donovan, the best coach in program history, to the NBA. 

White was in just his second season when the Gators made their run as a four-seed. He led them to a 27-9 season, the best season for Florida since making it to the 2014 Final Four. 

In his first two seasons with Florida, White was 48-24 as head coach, and in his first NCAA Tournament appearance as a head coach, he went to the Elite Eight. 

It looked as though the Gators had found the right replacement for a coach who may be irreplaceable. 

But after the 2017 tournament, continued disappointment and failed expectations haunted White. Although he made the tournament in three out of his final five years, he didn’t advance past the Round of 32. 

And in his final year during the 2021-2022 season, he failed to make the tournament and qualified for the NIT, recording a record of 19-13 and tied for fifth in the SEC. 

That was the final straw for White, as he left the Gators program and was hired as Georgia’s head coach on March 13, 2022. 

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Last season, Florida dominated Georgia, winning both contests. In current Gators head coach Todd Golden’s first season, he defeated the Bulldogs by seven at home, and by 10 on the road. 

“Mike’s a good guy,” Golden said. “I respect him as a coach and respect him as a person.”

In his first season with Georgia, White recorded a 16-16 record, finishing 11th in the SEC. 

In Golden’s first season with Florida, he went 16-17 and finished eighth in the conference. Though, White had a much better first year at Florida during the 2016-17 season, recording a 21-15 record. But like Golden, the Gators failed to make the tournament. 

This season, the Bulldogs have put together a solid 2023-24 campaign so far. They’re 14-5 with a 4-2 SEC record. Additionally, Georgia is 11-1 at home and 3-1 on the road. 

“I have a lot of respect for how he coaches,” Golden said. “His team’s are really organized, they’re really disciplined. They don’t beat themselves.”

UF has a strong home record as well, holding an 8-1 record in the O’Dome. They’re 13-6 overall, trailing the Bulldogs by one game in the conference standings. 

For White, going 0-3 against his old team may look like a win for the Florida basketball program. It could prove not signing White to the extension worked out for Athletic Director Scott Stricklin. 

Although Georgia currently has a better record than the Gators, both overall and in conference, the Bulldogs are not in the tournament, according to ESPN’s Bracketology.

Florida is apart of the “Next Four Out” and a third consecutive SEC win could improve their status come March. 

The Gators and Bulldogs will tip-off Saturday at noon in the O’Dome. The game will be aired on ESPN2. 

Contact Bennett Solomon at bsolomon@alligator.org. Follow him on X @B_Soly11.

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