Mike White stressed the need to improve defensively before the season started.
“I’m not sure we could be quite as good defensively,” UF’s coach said in October. “If this team is as good defensively as last year’s team, we’ll be really good.”
In the Gators’ 108-68 victory over North Florida in the O’Connell Center, UF showed how much its defense has improved since its opening practices.
Florida made the Ospreys’ offense look silly throughout most of the game.
Just 21 seconds into the contest, North Florida guard Ivan Gandia-Rosa hit a bailout three-point shot that opened the scoring.
The Gators responded with a 17-2 run over the next four minutes. UNF managed just one field goal.
Getting the ball in the basket didn’t become any easier for UNF, which shot 26.9 percent from the field in the first half, making just seven of its 26 field goal attempts.
“In the first half, we gave a glimpse of what we should be,” guard Jalen Hudson said. “I still think it’s around a seven out of 10, maybe even a six.”
UNF improved on that mark in the second half after facing a 45-23 halftime hole. By that point, it was too late.
Overall, the Ospreys shot 38.9 percent from the field and 7-of-29 from beyond the arc.
While Florida frontcourt players such as Gorjok Gak — who made his first career start Thursday night — Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone did a solid job of locking down the paint, it was most impressive when they guarded smaller, quicker players.
On one defensive sequence, the 6-foot-8 Stone leaked out to the perimeter on a defensive switch, forcing him to cover a guard.
Another play forced Stone out to the top of the three point arc, where he swiped a steal and dunked it emphatically on the other end of the court.
While Stone made strides offensively, scoring 14 points after totaling only three in his season debut, he said talking on defense was the most impressive step forward.
“Communication was the key to today’s success,” Stone said. “We gotta communicate and switch, because without that, they’re gonna get wide open.”
The Gators allowed just 16 points in the paint. Hayes and Gak both met their defensive assignments with grit and toughness when the Ospreys attempted anything up close.
For a squad that has lit up the scoreboard like Florida has throughout its first two non-conference games, playing rigorous defense can become tiring.
Still, White knows his players have miles to go before reaching the defensive prowess of last year's team, and he’s always reminding them.
“(It’s) the first, second, third and fourth things we talk about,” White said.
You can follow Skyler Lebron on Twitter @SkylerLebron, and contact him at [email protected].