The Florida Gators have moved on from a disappointing end to the regular season at Vanderbilt and are now focused on one thing: winning the SEC Tournament. Florida took two days off from practice following Saturday’s loss to Vanderbilt and is now refreshed and ready to possibly take on the same team for the second time in less than a week.
The first time the Gators dropped a game to the Commodores, a long team meeting was called and it set Florida on pace for a nine-game winning streak. Mike White decided it was appropriate to do so again on Monday after watching his team lose two of its last three games.
“It was the first long meeting since the last time Vanderbilt beat us,” said White. “In fact, I walked in and said, ‘Why do you think we’re meeting guys?’ I think it was Chris Chiozza said, ‘Well last time we met is because Vanderbilt beat us and we won nine in a row, coach’. I said, ‘Okay, that’s why we’re meeting’. It was really about setting the stage and taking in perspective about what’s around the corner, what are the potentials for this team. You’ve got to take it Friday night first, and that’s it. Obviously, the bigger picture is you’re playing for seeding, you’re playing potentially for an opportunity for a championship and all those things and you don’t have much time left. Hopefully, we can peak this week and play our best basketball, save our best basketball for right now. It’s going to take a ton of mental toughness, of course, with the quick turns, and mental focus, which hasn’t been one of our big strengths.”
On Friday, the Gators will play the winner of Vanderbilt and Texas A&M, meaning a tough first game of the SEC Tournament no matter what.
If it is Vanderbilt, Florida will get a third shot at facing the Commodores. It would be the first time in program history that the Gators open the tournament against their regular season finale opponent.
Vanderbilt was the only team to sweep Florida this season. The Commodores have swept the Gators each of the last two seasons since Mike White took over, with three of the four losses coming by less than two points.
The two losses this season were triggered by defensive lapses and a lack of timely offense. Florida defended Vanderbilt’s strength at the three-point line well last time but had absolutely no answers for big-man Luke Kornet with no presence at all inside in the second half. The Gators still don’t plan to make many changes to the game plan with such a short time to prepare.
“If we had a month to put in different zones and gimmicks,” White said when asked if he would do anything differently. “We just don’t have that time. In the next couple of days, to be honest with you, we might tinker with some stuff, but nothing that I’m sure by Friday we’ll feel very confident in riding. Maybe just to throw it out there, who knows. We’ve got to try to do what we attempted to do the last couple of games a little bit better. We made fewer mistakes in Nashville. We’re up 12 with, I don’t know, 9 or 10, up 9 with 8 to go, and just couldn’t hang on, but our attention to detail has got to be better, our focus has got to be better. That said, they’re terrific. They’re really good. They’re just very difficult to defend.”
If Texas A&M defeats Vanderbilt, the Gators will be forced to relive some bad memories of the Aggies knocking them out of the tournament a year ago. Most recently, Florida defeated Texas A&M 71-62 at home as part of its nine-game streak. The Gators led the entire first half and most the second half, handling the Aggies with relative ease.
The Gators still know better than to look past SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Robert Williams, who grabbed 12 rebounds while putting up 18 points for a double-double against Florida last game. He also led the Aggies with four of the team’s six blocks in the game.
“They’ve got one of the best frontcourts in the league, obviously, so we’ve got to be physical, bring the fight to them, really defensive rebound well, box out on the glass,” Canyon Barry said on the plan for Texas A&M. “If we just stick to our game plan and play Florida defense we’ll be fine.”
Most Florida fans would probably rather see the Aggies on the opposite end of the court come Friday, but as for Kasey Hill, he believes third time’s the charm. He wants Vanderbilt one more time.
“They’re a good team,” Hill said. “I hope we play them again, though.”
When asked why, he simply replied, “So we could beat them.”