Coach Mike White was his normal self on Monday, strolling through the Florida basketball complex in a gray sweatsuit, a lone Nike swoosh mark on the shoulder, coffee cup in hand. He seemed calm, which was appropriate given his message to his team following its third consecutive loss — this time against Loyola-Chicago — on Wednesday night: Don’t panic. There are plenty of games left to play.
His team, however, seemed panicked against the Ramblers. Florida had earned its No. 5 ranking by making shots and scoring at will, but that ability has evaporated since the Gators lost to No. 1 Duke on Nov. 26. White said the only thing to do to combat the funk is play better and make shots, which he said can mask some of the other shortcomings that need to be addressed.
“We’re just not making shots right now,” White said. “We’re coming off a really, really tough week.”
It started on Monday, when the Gators were dominated by Florida State in a 17-point loss. It marked UF’s fourth consecutive loss to the Seminoles.
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Florida’s two leading scorers — guards Jalen Hudson and Egor Koulechov — shot a combined 9-of-24 against FSU, including 3-of-13 from three-point range. The rest of the team couldn’t do much better.
The Gators shot 37 percent combined against Loyola and Florida State, with nearly identical percentages in each game. Like with Hudson and Koulechov, the shooting has been even worse from deep. The Gators went 8 of 44 in the two games.
White said he didn’t see the sudden frost coming. He said based on practice, he thought his team was just a good shooting team, and he expected that trend to continue. But he has a couple hypotheses for why.
First is the fact that the two games have been at home, and maybe that’s caused some jitters. Then there’s shot selection.
“Let’s make sure your first shot is a really good one,” White has told his players. “We've gotten away with making a contested one or two early in games early in the season against inferior opponents, and that's backfired on us.”
Florida’s lack of size has also backfired. The Gators’ three leading rebounders are guards — Hudson, Koulechov and Chris Chiozza — and that trio is UF’s only representation on the Southeastern Conference’s top 32 rebounders.
The issue was especially prominent against FSU, which outrebounded the Gators 51-34.
“We're just a very average defensive and rebounding team,” White said, “and when we're not making shots, it's hard to beat anybody.”
But White is trying to extract positive lessons from those struggles. He said maybe his players didn’t really believe they were in trouble when they were scoring in the triple digits game after game while allowing other teams to score high as well.
Now that shots aren’t falling and rebounds aren’t getting grabbed, White said his team will learn and get tougher. Florida will have a chance to show off that toughness, or not, on Saturday against No. 17 Cincinnati (7-1). White, meanwhile, will stay calm and sip his coffee with SEC play still several weeks away, trying to get his players to a similar level of tranquility.
“Is everything OK?” They’ve asked him in recent days. “Coach, are you good?”
“Yeah,” White has answered. “We're alive and healthy and we have a great opportunity today and we're in Florida. Are you kidding me? An opportunity to have a great practice today, come together, get better. Tough week, [but] a lot of people in Gainesville are having a lot tougher time in life than we are right now.”