Gators seek signature win vs. No. 10 Michigan State
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.”
UF coach Mike White and the Gators are looking forward to their matchup with No. 10 Michigan State.