Mike White will be the first person to tell you if he believes his team isn’t playing good defense.

He’s right, for the most part.

The Florida men’s basketball team’s first half of the season has been marred with lackluster, uninspired performances on the defensive end. Remember Florida State? Or how about Butler the first time around?

Even in wins, the lack of effort was apparent. Letting up 69 points against La Salle and 66 against North Florida doesn’t look great.

But it seems like most of that has changed.

Want proof? Look at the Gators’ last three games. A two-point loss to South Carolina, a six-point win against Arkansas and a nine-point loss to No. 3 Tennessee.

Are you confused by why I point to these three games — two of which were losses — to talk about why Florida looks like a changed team defensively?

Peel back the curtain and take a closer look at these games, and you’ll see what I mean.

Let’s start with South Carolina.

It went down to the wire. And it wasn’t Florida’s defense that was terrible. It was the offense.

Not scoring a field goal in the final 7:17 of the game will force you to lose, and the defense suffered as a result. Sure, it was a defensive mistake that cost them the win, but they couldn’t have played that much better of a defensive game.

The Gators stole the ball 11 times and blocked four shots. Forward Dontay Bassett had three of them. They even collected 35 rebounds, three less than a much bigger Gamecocks team.

Is that not doing it for you?

Then let’s talk about the Arkansas game. UF held the Razorbacks — who is averaging 79 points per game — to just 51. It grabbed 39 rebounds, even more than the previous game. The result was a win. A gritty, defensive driven win a tough SEC opponent.

Saturday’s loss to Tennessee was no different. Take out the last minute of play, and the Gators had the Volunteers in a one-possession game.

Florida’s defense was some of its best of the season. It forced UT to turn the ball over 13 times, and they applied effective pressure for the majority of the game.

Yes, UF made mistakes. That can’t be avoided when playing against the No. 3-ranked team in the country.

“We put together great effort for a total of 35 minutes, but those five minutes where we had our lulls, that’s when they went on their big runs,” center Kavarrius Hayes said.

It’s a vast improvement from where the Gators were just a month ago. They’re starting to put the pieces together defensively and trying to use that when their offense isn’t cutting it.

It’s still not where White wants them to be, however. Playing good defense doesn’t necessarily matter if you don’t play it at the right time. And he’s still pointing out the mistakes they are making, some of which are inexcusable for where they are in the season.
“Fouling jump shooters, are you kidding me?” White said. “It’s got to be more important to us...We’re the University of Florida and we did not do our jobs down the stretch.”

By no means is Florida’s defense perfect. They’re going to mess up, they’re going to miss a rotation and leave a man open, they’re going to foul a shooter that didn’t need to get fouled.

That’s the Gators. It happens.

But these last three games have been a good showing defensively. Probably some of it’s best all year. It’s a step in the right direction that can be built upon. Just give them time.

“Guys fought, guys played hard,” White said. “Terrific defense. Pretty good job of executing, got some good looks, didn’t get enough of them.”

Jake Dreilinger is the sports editor of the Alligator. Follow him on Twitter @DreilingerJake and contact him at [email protected].

Jake Dreilinger is the assistant sports editor of the Alligator and covers the Florida Gators football team. He has previously covered men's basketball, baseball and softball. He has worked at the paper since Fall 2015.