Defensive battle looming for Florida Gators basketball

Don’t expect too many points to be scored on Saturday when two of the nation’s best defenses square off in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Mike White told the media on Friday that he was trying to figure out a way for his team to score 40 against Virginia, and it wasn’t an exaggeration or a joke. The Cavaliers held four teams to fewer than 40 points this season and five more under 50.

Most notably, Virginia held North Carolina, a team that averages 84.9 points per game and plays a similar style to Florida, to just 43 points a few weeks back.

“What makes them good? Everything,” White said on UVA’s defense. “They’re so sound. Year in and year out, they’re in the top five in defensive efficiency in the country, which would put them in the argument to be the best defensive program in college basketball. They make you play differently.”

Virginia tries to slow down quick teams like Florida, which has attributed to much of its defensive success this season. The Cavaliers will allow the Gators the fewest possessions possible, taking all offensive tempo and momentum away.

By playing at the slowest pace in all of college basketball, Virginia limits its opponents to 48.2 field goal attempts per game, which is the fewest in the nation. That pace also leads to the top scoring defense, allowing just 56.1 points per game.

In controlling the tempo, Virginia can put opponents on long scoring droughts, something Florida is prone to, even against lesser defenses. It will be important for KeVaughn Allen to get back to his best form and not disappear throughout the game.

When Allen is on, the rest of the team generally follows his lead. A couple of early Allen threes is a good recipe for some offensive success against Virginia’s stingy defense.

“We’ll call his number early and often, and I want him to let that thing fly,” White said on Allen. “Again, your better scorers have got to step up against a defense like this. KeVaughn is going to have every opportunity, of course. We’re going to urge him to be aggressive. I’m sure he will be. I thought last game spoke to our depth and the different ways that we can muster up points. I’m not sure we can do it that way against Virginia.”

While Virginia’s defense is the key factor in this game, Florida’s defense deserves some credit as well. Its style is much different but can be just as effective.

Florida relies on players like Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza to turn defense into offense. If Hill, Chiozza and some of the Gators’ other quicker players can force Virginia’s offense into turnovers, it could also swing the outcome in Florida’s favor.

That will not be an easy task, though. As White said, the Cavaliers rarely turn the ball over. They turn it over just 9.5 times per game, the third-fewest in the nation. Even if the Gators cannot rely on turnovers to provide much production, they still plan to use speed to their advantage.

“We try to get out in transition as much as we can, and that starts with our defense,” said Chiozza. “They’re a great defensive team, and they’re good, an efficient team on offense as well. So, we’re going to force them into tough shots, get those rebounds, and get out in transition before they get their half-court defense set up.”

If Florida cannot make it a point early to speed things up and Virginia controls the pace of the game, it could be a very long day.

In the end, this game will come down to which of these defensive minded teams can force the other to change its style of play.

“It’s going to be smash mouth,” White said. “It’s going to be, again, two good defenses. I’d like to credit our guys. Our guys have really defended well. We’re a very, very good defensive team in our own right. Hopefully, it’s a game down the stretch where we can find ways to score it against their prolific D a little better than they can score against ours.”

Previous articleGetting to know Virginia: Florida Gators basketball
Next articleFlorida Gators handed 14-3 wakeup call at Auburn
Bailiegh Williams
Growing up the daughter of a baseball coach in a household that revolved around Gators sports, Bailiegh’s future working in sports was her destiny. She played four years of varsity softball at Suwannee High School and one year on softball scholarship at Gulf Coast State College. In her first year she discovered a love for journalism so she packed her bags and moved to Gainesville to finish her A.A. and begin interning for Gator Country. She is now on track to graduate from the University of Florida in 2019. In her free time, Bailiegh enjoys binge watching her favorite TV shows and spending time with her family and her two fur babies.