Crunch time: Florida feeling sense of urgency to find fixes amid slump
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida coach Mike White knew his team had flaws long before they started getting consistently exposed.
He talked about them in October and November. He saw glimpses of them in December and January. Now, in early February, they have become the team’s identity.
And there doesn’t appear to be a fix in sight.
The Gators (15-8, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) have lost three consecutive games in Southeastern Conference play, falling out of The Associated Press’ college basketball poll for the second time this season and raising speculation about whether they can make the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s crunch time,” senior point guard Chris Chiozza said Monday. “The urgency is higher than it’s been all year.”
Florida hosts LSU (13-9, 4-6) on Wednesday, and with three of its next four games on the road, a team that made the Sweet 16 in 2017 probably should be in desperation mode. But White doesn’t “want to make the stage bigger than it already is.”
“I don’t want to make it worse,” White added.
It could be worse, too.
The Gators essentially stole wins at Missouri and Kentucky last month. Those two-point victories helped mask Florida’s deficiencies. Three-point shooting and occasional defense also hid those blemishes.
But everyone knows how to play Florida these days.
“The book is out on us,” White said.
Florida is a catch-and-shoot team, capable of hitting 15 or more 3s on any given night. But teams have started playing extended defense on the Gators, opting to stay with shooters instead of helping in the paint. The result has been tougher outside shots for Florida and more open looks inside.
The Gators, however, have no big-time threats in the post, have shown no ability to get to the basket or to the free-throw line with any consistency and have really struggled to finish around the rim.
Florida ranks 281st out of 351 teams in two-point field-goal percentage. Only two teams from Power Five conferences — California and South Carolina — have a lower shooting percentage from inside the arc than White’s team.
And the Gators have endured similar post problems on the defensive end, giving up too many points in the paint and leaving shooters wide open when they choose to help.
White suggested wholesale changes could be coming following the team’s latest loss, an 18-point drubbing to Alabama at home Saturday.
He said Monday he plans to hold guys more accountable for taking poor shots, something that has posed problems on both ends.
“Shot selection is very, very sensitive,” White said. “I beat this team up on shot selection early in the year and it seemed like the direct result of that was we couldn’t make a shot for a month and we were overthinking everything. It can’t become too mental. I want our guys to play with a lot of confidence and I want us to be aggressive, but we’ve got to clean some of these shots up that are deflating.
“I think they can affect our energy level both offensively in becoming stagnant and defensive transition. I think that bad shots can affect the energy level of your opposition by fueling their fire a little bit.”
White also said he believes Chiozza and fellow guards KeVaughn Allen and Egor Koulechov are playing too many minutes, which has contributed to the team’s second-half woes.
“Some of our second-half collapses defensively, I think, have to do with playing guys too many minutes,” he said. “We’re not a very deep team. We’ve got to somehow get a little bit deeper. We’ve got to infuse somehow a little bit of confidence in a couple of these freshmen to give us something.”
If not, Florida’s freefall could continue through February.
“We know everybody has their ups and downs in a season, so we’ve had a lot of ups and a lot of downs so far and we’ve been trying to work on that to keep it consistently going up but we haven’t found a way to do it,” Chiozza said. “But we know what we’re capable of, so I don’t think we’re going to lose confidence in ourselves.”