Mike White

Mike White

The margin of error for the Gators is shrinking.

UF (17-10, 9-5 SEC) isn’t in a bad position when it comes to the NCAA Tournament and the loss to Kentucky on Saturday did nothing to change that.

However, Florida missed out on a golden opportunity to secure its standing in the March Madness field.

Now, with four regular season games remaining, coach Mike White and his team understand there’s little room for mistakes down the stretch.

“Our guys know the big picture. They know it,” White said at Tuesday’s media availability. “I told them yesterday, for probably the third or fourth time, our spectrum is we could potentially make a big run in the NCAA Tournament or we could potentially not go to the NCAA Tournament.”

Right now, according to multiple media outlets, the Gators are on the right side of the bubble, and a victory over another potential NCAA Tournament team in LSU (19-8, 10-4 SEC) tonight would make their standing even stronger.

When Florida and LSU met on Jan. 21, the Tigers outmuscled the Gators in the interior, edging UF on the boards 38-28 and beating it 50-32 in the paint.

That’ll have to change at the O’Connell Center on Wednesday night if the home team hopes to secure a victory over one of the best teams in the SEC.

The Tigers have lost four out of six, but it’s not because of a lack of offense.

LSU has the second-best scoring offense in the SEC at 80.8 points per game and has averaged over 84 PPG during its 2-4 stretch in the past few weeks.

The Tigers have five players that average double figures, and that’s a big reason defenses have had issues guarding them.

Florida has to be disciplined and keep Kerry Blackshear Jr. and center Omar Payne on the floor to help contain LSU forwards Trendon Watford and Darius Days, who had a combined 24 points and 14 rebounds in the team’s first meeting.

On the opposite end, the Tigers have been vulnerable on defense, giving up 73.2 PPG, placing them 281st in the NCAA.

UF shot well in the first matchup, making 11 threes in a two-point defeat.

The last four contests between the teams have been decided by five points or less, with two going to overtime.

Tonight should harbor another high-scoring, neck-and-neck battle.

“We control our destiny, and that’s like a luxury we have as a team,” Blackshear Jr. said. “We can decide whether we want to maybe finish out in the NIT or make a run in the NCAA Tournament.”

Defensively, the intensity for Florida needs to be consistently elevated.

“I remember they came out real aggressive and they were just like real aggressive from the jump,” forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. said. “I know that we got to stay calm the whole game and not get rattled because I feel like we got rattled a couple of times the last time we played them.”

Follow Evan on Twitter @evanmplepak and contact him at [email protected].

Evan Lepak is a Sports Journalism student at the University of Florida. Evan is the assistant sports editor and is currently covering UF men's basketball. He has been with the Alligator since Summer 2018.