Preview: No. 5 Florida looking to get back on track, takes on No. 17 Cincinnati

The Florida Gators have lost three straight games, including an 83-66 loss to the Florida State Seminoles on Monday.
Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

TIME: 6 P.M.

TV: ESPN2

NEWARK, N.J. — Reeling No. 5 Florida will attempt to get back on track Saturday when it faces No. 17 Cincinnati in the second game of the Never Forget Tournament at the Prudential Center.

It’s the first meeting between Florida and Cincinnati (7-1).

The Gators (5-3) have lost three straight games, including a surprising 65-59 home loss to Loyola-Chicago on Wednesday. Prior to that, Florida was upset 83-66 by Florida State on Monday. The slide began with an 87-84 loss to No. 1 Duke on Nov. 26, when Florida blew a 17-point lead in the second half.

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During that span, Florida is shooting just 36.6 percent from the field (45 of 123) and 18.2 percent from 3-point range (8 of 44), with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 14 to 25.

“We have to get in the gym,” Florida coach Mike White told gatorsports.com. “We have to take better (ones), we have to help each other get open. If we start out 0-for-5, we have to have more mental toughness to be able to make sure we continue to keep taking good ones and continue to have confidence in ourselves.

“We’ve proven we can shoot at a high level, and it’s right there in front of us — step up and make shots.”

Despite the rough stretch, the Gators still have the SEC’s highest-scoring offense (90.2) and also lead the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.6) and free-throw percentage (.765). Chris Chiozza leads the SEC with 6.1 assists per game, while Egor Koulechov’s .958 free-throw percentage tops the league.

Florida’s four 100-point games are tied for third-most in a season in school history. The Gators had five such games twice previously (2000-01, 2001-02) and also had two prior seasons with four (1986-87, 2003-04).

Bearcats coach Mick Cronin is downplaying the Gators’ recent struggles.

“Any opponent, you’ve got to look at them at their best and be prepared for their best shot,” Cronin told cincinnati.com. “We expect Florida to shoot a lot better than 2-for-19 from the 3-point line.”

Florida was 2-for-19 from 3-point range in the loss to Loyola.

“They’ve had their struggles here recently, but I think you’re seeing it across the country,” Cronin said.

The Bearcats are coming off an 89-76 loss to crosstown rival and No. 13 Xavier.

“It’s getting harder to win,” Cronin said. “It gets harder to win in December and a lot harder in January. We’ve got our own problems. Last time we played, we played awful. If you tell me my team would ever play that bad defensively as we played in our last game, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Xavier shot 47.4 percent from the field and outrebounded Cincinnati 44-27.

“We’ll approach Florida like they’re gonna be at their best, but we’ve got our own issues to resolve,” Cronin said. “Especially on the defensive end.”

The Bearcats rank among the nation’s top 10 in scoring margin (second at plus-25.1), rebound margin (ninth at plus-11.4) and field-goal percentage defense (ninth at .362). They are also among the top 25 in total rebounds per game (12th with 43.1), scoring defense (15th at 61.3); total blocks (15th with 48), blocked shots per game (19th at 6.0) and assists per game (24th at 18.4).

Cincinnati has won 35 of its last 40 regular-season games dating to a 61-54 win over SMU in March 2016.

Bearcats senior forward Gary Clark ranks third in the nation with 883 career rebounds. His 20 career double-doubles are the most among all active players in the American Athletic Conference.