When the Tennessee Volunteers come to Gainesville on Saturday, they will (and should) be heavily favored to add another tally to their win total over the Florida Gators.
So far, the Vols have won their first two SEC games over Georgia and Missouri by an average of 35 points, and with the way the Gators have been playing lately, all Mike White can ask is for his team to be competitive.
“They have a chance to win a national championship,” White said of Tennessee. “They’re a really, really good college basketball team. They’re tough, they’re physical, no weaknesses. We’re going to have play our best basketball just to have a chance.”
That is not the standard Florida faithful have come to expect, but it is the reality of where things stand right now. In less than a week, the Gators have given up double-digit leads to two different opponents and only got lucky enough to escape with a win in one of those games.
The biggest problem has been losing aggression when playing with those big leads. There likely won’t be an opportunity for that against Tennessee, but that is an indication of some kind of underlying mental block for this team.
There is no “killer instinct” as White put it. That won’t get the job done against one of the best teams in the country.
“I always tell our guys, you can’t focus on the result,” he said. “You need to focus on this possession, let’s try to get a stop. And then when we get the ball, let’s try to get a great shot. And then let’s try to get a stop. You have to stay in the moment and play one possession at a time. And then, if we’re in the game and there’s five minutes left in the game, at that point we’ll start talking about that. How do we finish this thing out? That’s it. So hopefully we get off to a good start against a big-time team and hopefully we give them a good game.”
While losing focus late has been a problem recently, White doesn’t expect it to be an issue on Saturday. And if taking on a Top-5 team at home doesn’t inspire Florida to play a full 40 minutes at a high level, then nothing will.
“I’d be shocked if we don’t come out at the tip and play really, really hard,” White said. “Does that mean we’ll get out to a lead? I don’t know. Heck, you hope to be competitive, of course. We’ll play hard. Our guys will play hard and we’ll sit down in our stance and we’ll make them earn it. This is an offense that you could play a B game, even an A game, defensively, and they still put 80 on you just with their ability to score in a variety of ways.”
The Gators will have their hands full trying to guard Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield in this one while also trying to find some kind of offensive mojo. But if Florida can come out with a signature win, the outlook on the remainder of the season will suddenly become much brighter.