No one was more disappointed in Florida’s recent loss to South Carolina than coach Mike White.
The Gators men’s basketball team finished its non-conference schedule in a respectable manne…
No one was more disconcerted at the lack of intensity shown at various points in the game.
And there’s no one searching for more answers for the team’s struggles than the men’s basketball coach.
Losses to Michigan State, Oklahoma and Butler (the first meeting on Nov. 23) were letdowns, but they were hardly tougher to digest than a double-digit collapse in the conference opener to a subpar opponent.
That’s why UF’s upcoming matchup against Arkansas on Wednesday night is so important.
By the 8:30 p.m. tip off in Fayetteville, Arkansas, White’s squad will need more fervor, more urgency and more aggression than it has shown up to this point.
“I think we have a few guys with very good sense of urgency," White said. "We don’t have enough of them, though. Sometimes you feel like ... you feel like you’re dragging these guys a little bit. That’s not a sign of a great team, when you’ve got to coach effort in practice. I’ve said it all year. When you’ve got freshmen leading, not a sign of a great team.”
That freshman is guard Noah Locke, who is the team’s second-leading scorer (10 points per game). His confidence and consistency on the court has thrust him into a role that has required him to grow up quickly. He and fellow freshman guard Andrew Nembhard may have to do even more as the team goes further into its SEC slate with many of its veterans struggling.
The Razorbacks are hard to beat at home, and they always present a tough challenge for the Gators.
Florida can no longer afford for its on-the-court struggles to be exacerbated by a continued lack of effort and toughness, especially against Arkansas’ full-court press. Otherwise, the Gators run the risk of opening league play 0-2.
Among many of White’s concerns heading into the matchup is the fickle play of guard KeVaughn Allen.
Allen leads the Gators in scoring (10.3 points per game), but his inconsistency has been unmistakable this season. The senior collected 10 points (4-of-5 shooting) in the first half against the Gamecocks but took just one shot in the second.
“I can’t explain it,” White said of Allen’s play. “He’s very talented, and he got off to a really good start … When he’s playing aggressive and confident, he’s really good and we’re much better for it. I don’t know how to channel it; I don’t ...Together we’ve got to find a way, whether he’s making or missing shots, urge him to be more confident. Together we all have to get him more aggressive, whether that’s taking a shot or attacking.”
As Allen returns to his hometown, he’s expected to get quality minutes because he’s a leader, but when White spoke to the media on Tuesday, he was clear in his willingness to rotate guys based on who shows up from the opening tip.
“People ask me all the time ... ‘Why you get him out of the game?’ Well, if he did what he was supposed to do, I’d keep him in the game. Trust me,” White said. “I would like to play five guys 40 minutes. My life would be so much easier. And you know what, we’d execute better, we’d know where we’re getting our shots from, we’d know who to call plays for. It’d be very, very simple and we’d be pretty damn good.”
White seemed exasperated as he reiterated the same sentiments he has all season. He said every guy on the court has to show up against Arkansas on Wednesday the same way he does in practice.
And for Allen, it’s a matter of bringing the same mental aggression to every matchup.
“Just, no matter who we play, we just have to bring the same intensity for every team,” he said. “No matter what the jersey says, we have to play like that every game.”
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