It’s been a trying week for the Florida Gators basketball team.
It started with a loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament on Friday. A streak of games that made it seem like Florida had finally hit its peak heading into postseason play all came crashing down in 40 ugly minutes of basketball.
To add insult to injury, the team’s originally scheduled flight home got pushed back. That left the Gators to sit in a St. Louis hotel a couple more days and think about what they’d done while four other SEC teams were still competing.
“First and foremost, I don’t think we feel like we played our best game,” said junior guard Jalen Hudson. “We didn’t give ourselves a chance really against Arkansas. And then on top of that, we had to sit there in St. Louis and watch all the rest of the SEC games when we knew we should have been playing. It really stung.”
Florida was then forced to learn its fate for the first round of the NCAA Tournament just before taking off, only to find out it would have to prepare for two different teams.
The Gators spent the following days studying as much as possible about both St. Bonaventure and UCLA. The Bonnies were able to come away with a 65-58 win over the Bruins in the First Four on Tuesday night, so Florida had to throw its scout on UCLA out the window.
Now, the trials and tribulations of the past week must be left behind and all focus put towards a matchup with St. Bonaventure.
The Bonnies did to the Bruins on Tuesday what they nearly did to the Gators last season. They scrapped away the entire game, and in the end, just had more left in the tank than UCLA did.
Some would say it is an advantage to Florida already knowing what to expect from a team it faced in the not so distant past, but it just barely escaped with a win the last time, and St. Bonaventure has proven it will be a tough out in the tournament.
“I just think we’re such a different team,” said head coach Mike White. “We’re playing such a different team. I just think it’s more about this year’s Gators versus this year’s Bonnies … We’ve got to play really, really well to win tomorrow, and our focus can’t be on how far can we make it in the tournament, or it’s going to be short-lived. Our experience here in the NCAA Tournament, it’s got to be focused on the St. Bonaventure scouting report.”
One thing the Gators know for sure is St. Bonaventure will have some outstanding guard play. Between Jaylen Adams (19.9 PPG), Matt Mobley (18.4 PPG) and Courtney Stockard (13.3 PPG), the Bonnies bring in one of the best back courts in the country.
Adams wasn’t on his game with just eight points against UCLA, but Mobley dropped 14 and Stockard went off for 26. That just goes to show how much more dangerous this Bonnies team could be.
Florida has the tools it will take to win a battle of the back courts, but it did not show that in a very similar situation last game.
“It’s transition defense, ball screen defense, isolation defense, our guards defending their guards at a high level,” White said. “Those things have to happen for us, or we might as well not show up. If we defend the way we did against Arkansas, we’ll be a one-and-done in this tournament, and that’s been explained to our guys several times leading into practice today and several times during practice today.”
Based on what they’ve done all season, it’s hard to know what to expect from the Gators going into the tournament. They could dominate or fall flat.
It will all depend which Florida team shows up Thursday night.