With a 3-0 conference start that the Florida Gators were able to begin SEC play with, there was a sense of belief among the players that this would be a turning point for the team. Despite suffering a difficult defeat to Georgia on Saturday, Florida remains confident.
In the next week, the Gators (10-7, 3-1 SEC) will be tested with three games that can either make or break their season. The possibility of going 3-0 in the next seven days is attainable, but Florida cannot afford to lose more than one game.
The rest of the season is spelled out in stretches for the Gators. That first stretch starts off with LSU tomorrow at 7 p.m. The Tigers (13-4, 2-2 SEC) are coming off a tough loss against Texas A&M on Saturday and hope to not fall below under .500 when they travel to Gainesville.
For the Gators, the biggest test will be to stop returning Tigers’ forwards Jarrell Martin and Jordan Mickey. The two sophomores are averaging over 15 points per game respectively and will give the Gators a handful to deal with on defense.
“Yeah, you know I’ve always believed just philosophically the way we play is it’s never about one guy defensively. Certainly there’s gonna be things they have to do inside, their job, role, responsibility defensively,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “Those two guys [Martin, Mickey] are really, really talented good players, and you know we’re gonna have to be position-wise in some very, very good spots, you know, but I think that we’ve got to play team defense.”
Martin and Mickey aren’t the only players the Gators will have to stop. Florida’s game plan is to stop the Tigers as a unit rather than simply focusing on shutting down a player or two. LSU has two other starters in Keith Hornsby and Josh Gray that are averaging in double-figures as well.
This might be the first time Florida will play a team that has multiple players that are this talented on offense since playing the North Carolina Tar Heels back in November.
LSU’s offense ranks third in the SEC scoring 75 points per game while Florida is in the bottom half at 11th with 67.6 points a game. One of the reasons why the Tigers offense ranks high is due to their passing abilities. LSU ranks second in assists per game at 16.6. Florida is 7th at 13.8 assists.
The Gators are a team that lives and dies by their ball movement. When Florida can distribute the ball to record a high number of assists, multiple players get on the board and possibly double-figures for a guarantee victory.
“They’re very explosive and the thing about Martin is he’s so versatile in terms of a number of different positions he plays and they move him around,” Donovan said of LSU. “To me, LSU, they’re a team I mean those guys are really good players, but they’ve got a really good team.”
For a player like forward Chris Walker, another game awaits for him to show out. But Walker doesn’t necessarily have to play at an all-star caliber level; he just needs to play within the team’s system.
In the last couple of games, Walker has shown fatigue and hasn’t impacted the game offensively, but a contest against LSU tomorrow night can put him in the right direction.
“Me playing horrible the past couple games, I feel like this game is what I need. Start it off, be so aggressive and come out,” Walker said. “I’m just doing whatever I can to help the team man, really. Just finish more around the basket, go up strong and get more rebounds. Go to the offensive glass a little harder.”