The University of Florida has lost two consecutive road games, but first-year coach Mike White hopes the Gators can get back on track Saturday against Oklahoma State in the nightcap of the annual Orange Bowl Classic.
Florida State and Florida Atlantic will kick off the event in Sunrise at 5 p.m.
While the Seminoles (7-2) aim to extend their winning streak to four against the lowly Owls (2-8), the Gators are looking for their first victory since Dec. 1.
UF was bushwhacked at No. 15 Miami before losing valiantly at No. 1 Michigan State last Saturday.
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Effort was an issue against the Hurricanes, while execution, especially offensively, was Florida’s downfall in a 58-52 loss to the top-ranked Spartans.
“We’re not celebrating that we lost a close game to Michigan State at all, but we showed this team has a lot of pride,” White said.
“I was really proud of the intestinal fortitude of our guys.”
But moral victories won’t get UF (6-3) any closer to earning an NCAA Tournament bid. The Gators, surviving solely because of the SEC’s stingiest defense, have the nation’s No. 6 RPI and No. 2 strength of schedule. But they need a marquee win over a Power 5 team before conference plays starts on Jan. 2.
“This is an important one,” White said. “It’s another really good opportunity against a high-level program, high-level conference. It’s a neutral-site game. It’s a team I expect to have good numbers throughout the year, so it’s definitely an opportunity.”
The Cowboys (7-3) haven’t been the same without sharpshooter and leading scoring Phil Forte (13.3 points per game). The senior guard has missed seven games in a row — and all three losses — with an elbow injury.
Still, they’re a formidable foe and offer Florida another opportunity to prove it can win outside of Gainesville. The Gators are just 3-3 away from the O’Connell Center this season. But whether they’re home, on the road or at a neutral site, their offense continues to produce many more bricks than buckets.
UF ranks last in the SEC in field goal percentage at 41 percent. The Gators were just 5 of 30 from three-point range against Miami and Michigan State, and they’re shooting a meager 28.3 percent from downtown this season, which ranks 323rd nationally.
White has lamented Florida’s offensive stagnation, continuously juggling lineups and rotation combinations to find a solution for the team’s shooting struggles. Several weeks ago, he inserted Devin Robinson (11.0 points, 7.9 rebounds) into the starting lineup, and now he’s considering playing Chris Chiozza and Kasey Hill — two point guards — together more after last Saturday’s brief success.
“We played well with both those guys in the game, so it’s something we’re considering moving forward,” he said. “We don’t want to be real small, but with those guys you’re really quick and fast, and you’ve got two playmakers out there.”
Meanwhile, scoring hasn’t been an issue for the Seminoles.
FSU, which is 5-1 all-time in the Orange Bowl Classic and on track for a potential NCAA Tournament berth, blew out Mississippi State 90-66 on Wednesday night — the fifth time the Noles eclipsed 80-plus points this season.
FSU will face a rebuilding FAU team that is in its second season under the leadership of former NBA veteran Michael Curry. The Owls have lost three in a row and will play their fourth game away from home in eight days.
Saturday: Orange Bowl Classic
Who: Florida State (7-2) vs. FAU (2-8); Florida (6-3) vs. Oklahoma State (7-3).
When, where: FSU-FAU, 5 p.m.; UF-Oklahoma State, 8 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise.
TV, radio: FSU-FAU — FSFL; WFTL (850); UF-Oklahoma State — FS1; WIOD (610).