Ga­tors seek sig­na­ture win vs. No. 10 Michi­gan State

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS WEEKEND - By Edgar Thomp­son

GAINESVILLE — De­spite Mike White’s sub­dued tone Fri­day morn­ing, it’s been a pretty good week so far for UF’s head bas­ket­ball coach.

It could be a great one if the Ga­tors knock off 10th-ranked Michi­gan State.

Tues­day night’s win against West Vir­ginia in Madi­son Square Gar­den — known as “The World’s Most Fa­mous Arena” — was a nice start to the week. A vic­tory at noon Satur­day in the O’Connell Cen­ter against one of col­lege bas­ket­ball’s blue­bloods would be quite a fin­ish. The game will air na­tion­ally on CBS.

Leg­endary coach Tom Izzo’s Spar­tans (7-2) are just one-point fa­vorites but also are ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing the Ga­tors (5-3) a re­al­ity check.

Michi­gan State is many things UF is not — consistent of­fen­sively, as­sertive in re­bound­ing and coached by a man with a na­tion­alcham­pi­onship ré­sumé.

“They’re just ter­rific at just pound­ing you,” White said. “And they can make shots, of course. They’re just a re­ally good bas­ket­ball team. There’s not much weak­ness with them.”

Mean­while, the Ga­tors’ 66-56 win against West Vir­ginia ex­posed their many short­com­ings but also showed some grit White was happy to see.

“We’re a bet­ter team than we were a week ago. We took a step,” White said. “We’re go­ing to have to be even bet­ter in this one to have a chance. And we’re still try­ing to find our­selves of­fen­sively.”

Against West Vir­ginia, UF missed 18 free throws, gave up 16 of­fen­sive re­bounds and shot just 28.6 per­cent from 3-point range (six-of-21 shoot­ing).

The game at one point got to be so ugly that Hall of Fame an­nouncer Dick Vi­tale, for decades a cham­pion of the sport, said he could not wait for it to end.

“We’ll take ’em,” White said of the win. “Ugly can be pretty at times. To win one like that at a great event in Madi­son Square was a good a win, a good win for this team. But it’s over.”

White knows the Ga­tors will have to raise their game to an­other level to chal­lenge Izzo’s Spar­tans.

Bar­ring a hot-shoot­ing per­for­mance, UF’s best chance might be to muddy up the game be­hind a de­fense that has kept the Ga­tors in ev­ery con­test since a sea­son-open­ing loss by 21 points at Florida State.

UF scored 22 points off turnovers against West Vir­ginia, av­er­ages 9.5 steals and has a plus-5.1 turnover mar­gin this sea­son.

Other­wise, the Ga­tors trail Michi­gan State in ev­ery key sta­tis­ti­cal cat­e­gory.

The Spar­tans av­er­age 87.2 points, shoot 40.5 per­cent from 3-point range and 71 per­cent from the freethrow line, av­er­age 20 as­sists and have a plus-11.9 re­bound­ing mar­gin. UF, on the other hand, av­er­ages 71 points, shoots 35.3 per­cent from be­yond the arc and 63.9 from the foul line, av­er­ages 13.9 as­sists and has a plus-0.1 re­bound­ing mar­gin.

“We’re go­ing to try to con­tinue to try to be a re­ally good de­fen­sive team,” White said. “But we also un­der­stand that we have to get much bet­ter of­fen­sively if we’re go­ing to be re­ally com­pet­i­tive in the SEC and have a chance at post­sea­son play and mak­ing a run. We’ve stressed a lit­tle bit more of­fen­sive here in the last cou­ple of weeks.

“Still search­ing, but hope­ful that we can make a jump in the next cou­ple of months of­fen­sively.”

Se­nior KeVaughn Allen’s sea­son-high 19-point ef­fort against West Vir­ginia was en­cour­ag­ing for a tal­ented scorer av­er­ag­ing 8.7 points en­ter­ing the game.

White now hopes to see fifth-year se­nior guard Jalen Hud­son snap out of his funk. A sea­son af­ter he av­er­aged a team-lead­ing 15.5 points, Hud­son has scored 12 points dur­ing the past five games. He played just six min­utes Tues­day and has missed his four 3-point at­tempts and both his free throws.

White said he and Hud­son had a long talk Thurs­day about his lack of in­ten­sity. Hud­son fol­lowed the chat with his best prac­tice of the sea­son.

“The one big chal­lenge to him yesterday was we’re go­ing to con­tinue to chal­lenge your in­ten­sity level and your com­pet­i­tive­ness level, but don’t let’s for­get how tal­ented you are of­fen­sively,” White said. “This can’t be a con­fi­dence­shaker. When you’re in the game, whether you earn 30 or you earn 10, you’ve got to be the Jalen Hud­son we know you are of­fen­sively.”

SARAH STIER/GETTY

UF coach Mike White and the Ga­tors are look­ing for­ward to their matchup with No. 10 Michi­gan State.

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