Unlike the majority of the coaches in the NCAA Tournament, who have been preparing for their opening games since Selection Sunday, University of Florida’s Mike White and his staff had to wait around until Tuesday night’s First Four game to find out their first-round opponent.
It turned out to be No. 11-seed St. Bonaventure, a mid-major team the sixth-seeded Gators actually know a bit about. The Bonnies (26-7) advanced to Thursday’s late game (10:10 p.m., truTV) against the Gators (20-12) by beating UCLA 65-58 in Dayton, Ohio.
Florida beat St. Bonaventure 73-66 in Lakeland last season, and White was impressed. The Bonnies’ offense centers around senior guards Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, although both struggled against UCLA. Courtney Stockard, coming off a hamstring injury, led the Bonnies on Tuesday with 26 points.
“With those two guys [Adams and Mobley], they’re complemented by Stockard, who is a really underrated guy in my opinion and a mismatch nightmare,” White said. “To complement, arguably, one of the best backcourts in the country both offensively and defensively and then they have other pieces, too. They are hard to block out, really good in the zone.”
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The Bonnies’ zone forced UCLA into 20 turnovers.
“Going back to last year’s game, one thing that stuck out was their talent level,” White said. “They could really score. Coach [Mark] Schmidt has done an amazing job there.”
Gators senior point guard Chris Chiozza, whose overtime buzzer-beating shot over Wisconsin sent UF to the Elite 8 last year, expects a tough battle in the backcourt.
“We know those are their two main scorers, and they’re great players,” he said. “We’re going to try to contain them as much as we can, and not let them get any open shots.”
Florida ended the regular season with three straight victories against tournament teams — Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky. But, the Gators lost momentum with a 90-82 loss to Arkansas in the SEC quarterfinals.
UF had an up and down season, with losses to Loyola-Chicago (Miami’s first-round opponent), Ole Miss, South Carolina and Georgia (twice).
The Gators are led by Chiozza (11.2 ppg, 6.1 apg), Jalen Hudson (15.3 ppg), Egor Koulechov (13.6 ppg) and KeVaughn Allen (11.3 ppg), who dropped 35 points against Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 last year.
White said he doesn’t think last year’s Elite 8 experience will play much of a factor on Thursday.
“We’re such a different team,” he said. “I think it’s more about this year’s Gators versus this year’s Bonnies. We’ve got to play really, really well to win, and our focus can’t be on how far can we make it in the tournament or it’s going to be short-lived. Our focus has to be the St. Bonaventure scouting report.”