No. 22 Florida clashes with one-loss Clemson

Florida hopes to continue climbing out of the hole it dug with a three-game losing streak.

Clemson is just looking for a signature win to get some respect.

That’s the setup as the 22nd-ranked Gators (6-3) and unranked Tigers (8-1) meet in the nightcap of the Orange Bowl Classic doubleheader Saturday in Sunrise, Fla. No. 19 Florida State and Oklahoma State meet in the opener.

The Gators were ranked among the nation’s best after finishing off November by beating No. 17 Gonzaga in double overtime and leading top-ranked Duke in the final minutes before losing by three points in the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Ore.

But that loss to the Blue Devils sent the Gators into a tailspin that saw them start December by losing to Florida State by 17 points and 65-59 to Loyola Chicago — both at home.

“This is as low as we can get. We have to change everything,” Florida guard Jalen Hudson said after the loss to the Ramblers. “It’s not one thing, it’s a lot of things, and it’s on us completely.

“We’re not ready to play. We don’t start the game ready to play. We don’t finish the game. We don’t hit shots and we’re not guarding. Guards aren’t guarding. Bigs aren’t guarding — no one is doing anything.”

The Gators may have been guilty of reading their own press clippings after rising to No. 5 in the country.

“We’re not a very accountable team right now,” Florida coach Mike White said. “We’re a team that’s been told for about two months how good we are, and it’s been at an all-time high the past 10 days. Hopefully, we’ve been humbled a little bit.”

But the Gators stopped their slide by besting Cincinnati 66-60 in Newark, N.J., in another neutral-site game in their last outing.

“Really big win against a very good team and a really, really consistent program that we have a lot of respect for,” White said. “One of the toughest teams in the country, in our estimation, both mentally and physically.”

Guard Chris Chiozza was the key, scoring the game’s last six points. He is one of four Gators who average in double figures at 11.8 points per game. Hudson averages a team-high 19.1 points followed by guard Egor Kouilechov (16.1), guard KeVaughn Allen (11.8), and Chiozza.

Clemson is coming off an 81-59 rout of Samford that gave the Tigers their best start since the 2008-09 season. But other than a 14-point road win over an Ohio State team that has seen better times, the Tigers lack the kind of eye-catching victory that would garner them attention.

Forward Donte Grantham is the key. One of five veterans returning from a 17-16 club, the junior leads them in scoring with a 16.0 average.

“Sometimes he doesn’t get enough credit for all the other things he does,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “He’s 6-foot-8, he’s out there on the perimeter dribbling the ball like a guard, and passing the ball. He’s one of our best passers, relieving pressure.”