Now 27 games into the college basketball season the Florida Gators’ biggest weakness offensively has been made glaringly apparent. Not being able to score inside has been a season long struggle and the problem reared it’s ugly head again tonight against the Commodores. Mike White is more than aware of the problem and knew how much of an issue it was tonight. “Our inefficiencies at the rim continue to haunt us. We had a bunch of looks… if you want to steal a game on the road… you’ve got to make them.” Finishing plays inside was difficult all game and the issue was punctuated by a Jalen Hudson miss at the front of the rim with 36 seconds left that would have put the Gators ahead by 1 but instead left them down by 1 scrambling to try and come back. Knowing how much they struggle to score inside Mike White decided to employ a strategy different than anyone would expect by putting 5’11” point guard Chris Chiozza into the post. “We’re searching for ways, and obviously riding Chris as much as possible, to score on the inside.” There was a secondary motive for putting Chiozza in the low block and it was to try to get Vanderbilt guard Riley LaChance, a player who has given the Gators trouble his entire career, to pick up his 5th foul. “Absolutely, we were trying to get him out of the game,” White stated, but after reflecting on the technique’s effectiveness he added “A couple of those possessions got really stagnant.” I’m not sure if we’ll see the 5’11” post up as a regular part of the Gators offense but they have to try something to get easier 2-point baskets. Normally the highest percentage shot in basketball, the Gators only shoot 47.1% from 2-point range putting them at 278th in the nation. Knowing this Coach White makes interior scoring a priority, even if it hasn’t manifested itself in games yet. “It’s every game and it’s every practice. It’s been a point of emphasis since probably about 2 weeks into practice when we realized how much we struggle to score in there.”
Scoring inside wasn’t the only issue for the Gators as defensive struggles and lapses in pick and roll coverage lead to uncontested Vanderbilt layups and wide open threes on the perimeter. When asked about the pick and roll defense White offered “We can’t allow back off threes and catch and shoot threes, we’re trying to make them bounce the basketball just like they were trying to make us bounce the basketball.” He also noted how tough it is to execute proper pick and roll defense and keep shooters in check “when you don’t have a rotation or a late rotation.”
“Some of it is a lack of discipline, and that’s on me.”
When asked further questions about Vanderbilt’s offense he pointed to their execution at the foul line, saying “For them to convert 22-24… That’s key for them.”
White tried to keep a level of positivity throughout the press conference while also being aware of the disappointment surrounding the loss. “We played better then we did on Wednesday, hands down. We played hard, we executed offensively, we had 3 turnovers… we did some good things. Got 14 offensive rebounds.” The note on offensive rebounds shows it must be a focus point for the team as the Gators are currently 10th in the SEC in offensive rebounding.
“I thought we came with the right approach today and had a great edge from the tip but we didn’t maintain it for 40 and even if we did, we may not have won the game. This team has struggled all year to put 40 together, particularly defensively.” Does that shock him?
“It’s not puzzling because it’s who we are… we’re an inconsistent group.”
Those aren’t the words you might want to hear from your head coach but the accuracy of them can’t be disputed. Florida’s NCAA Tournament resume is certain to baffle the Selection Committee as for every great win the Gators have they have a bad loss to counteract it. There isn’t much time to develop solid consistency and it will be tough ending the year with games against Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama, and Kentucky but they’ll need to try to better their standing for both the SEC and NCAA Tournaments.
One area the Gators’ inefficiency has really hurt them has been in the second halves of games where the Gators have let double digit leads slide on multiple occasions, a troubling trend that was brought up to Coach White. When asked if he was worried about it effecting his team mentally he had an interesting answer: “I hope it effects us mentally… we’ve got to figure it out or it won’t end well.” With how many leads the team has blown letting it not effect them is clearing off the table and Coach White hopes that these losses are learning experiences, though he hoped the lesson would have been learned long ago.
What should the Gators do when things aren’t going well and confidence isn’t at a high?
“I don’t think we need confidence to play defense, I think we need some accountability and some discipline and some leadership and some communication.”
The Gators will be looking for that accountability, discipline, leadership, and communication when they head to Knoxville to take on Tennessee on February 21.