After winning nine consecutive games, the Florida Gators finally dropped one on Saturday at Kentucky. Along with having the streak snapped by its biggest conference rival, Florida also fell out of the first place spot in the SEC with just two more games to play in the regular season.
The loss was a lot to take in, but now the Gators must move on from it quickly to be ready for a tough week ahead. So far, Mike White is pleased with the response his team has made in the days since returning from Lexington.
“You know I was really impressed with our guys yesterday,” White said. “It doesn’t always carry over to the next day’s’ practice, and certainly not to the game, not all the time. We wish it did, but yesterday, I thought I’d have to get them juiced up and maybe challenge them a bit. We challenged them a little bit in film, ‘Hey we lost. These are some of the things we could have done better’, and we went out and had a great practice. We went about an hour and we were as sharp as we’ve been. So this team continues to do things that impress you from a work ethic and character standpoint. We were sharp yesterday.”
Saturday’s game was the first game that John Egbunu’s absence was significantly noticeable. The difference on defense and on the boards played less of a role against South Carolina in Florida’s first game without its starting center, but Kentucky made it a glaring issue.
Bam Adebayo was a nightmare for the Gators on offense and defense, doubling his point-total from the first matchup to 18 and grabbing 15 rebounds in the game. Florida outrebounded Kentucky, the conference’s best rebounding team, 50-29 at home, but the Wildcats turned the table with a 48-30 advantage on Saturday. It became clear that Egbunu’s presence alone could have changed the game.
“I think there are times where we’ve shown without John glimpses of being really good, but we don’t have that same depth on the interior,” said White. “It’s probably easier to mask offensively, but defensively and on the glass it has hurt us. I was asked a bunch in Lexington, in the post-game press conference, about the discrepancy and huge rebounding swing from game one to the second, and I guess in this program right now we’ve been all about moving on. We don’t have John. Let’s not think about it. Let’s not dwell on it. I literally came to the conclusion after the game that a huge part of that discrepancy was John Egbunu. He got seven in the first game and probably kept Adebayo from getting a few himself, so it’s a big factor. A big factor. A couple guys have to step up.”
The Gators will continue to look for more creative ways to replace Egbunu and get Kevarrius Hayes some help inside, because now that he must carry most of the load, he no longer has the luxury of staying fresh throughout the game.
It will be important for Florida to make some changes as it prepares to take on a much improved Arkansas team. The Gators came away with an 81-72 road win over the Razorbacks last time, but Arkansas has been playing very well as of late, especially on the road.
“We told our guys yesterday, this is a different Arkansas team. This Arkansas team has won five in a row. They’ve won, I believe, their last three in a row on the road, if I’m not mistaken, and they’ve won road contests at some really tough places. I mean, they’ve won at Vanderbilt, at Tennessee and at South Carolina, off the top of my head. You’ve gotta be a good team to do that … I think they’ve improved throughout the year as much as a lot of teams have. Defensively, you know what you’re gonna get. It’s gonna be a dogfight every game. Offensively, as good as they were in December, they’re even better now.”