GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida basketball team is riding a season-best six-game winning streak as it returns home Saturday to host Georgia.
The No. 23 Gators (13-3, 4-0 SEC) squandered an 18-point lead against Alabama on Tuesday night before surging back for an 80-67 win while remaining one of just three unbeaten teams in the conference.
Georgia (11-5, 3-1) has won three of its last four games to get off to a strong start in SEC play as well and is coming off a 69-47 demolition of Ole Miss.
As for Florida, the story of the season has been its rotating cast of key contributors and not ever having to rely on the same one or two players to lead the way.
That win at Alabama was the latest example as standout guard KeVaughn Allen had his worst game in more than a month while scoring only 6 points on 2-of-7 shooting, but it didn’t matter as forward Keith Stone came off the bench to score 14 (his second-highest total of the season), guard Canyon Barry chipped in 13 off the bench, point guard Kasey Hill dropped in 13 as well, and the Gators got further contributions up and down the lineup.
“We’ve been really fortunate that the right guy or two has stepped up on the right nights, when needed the most,” coach Mike White said. “Timing has really worked well for us. Miami and Alabama in particular stick out. I’m sure there were another three or four games where our bench was really good. The other night was as good as our bench has been. It’s a luxury to have. I don’t want to build our bench up too big because I know there’s a lot of teams in the country that have a really good bench, and it’s not like we’re bringing in a couple of guys that get 15 a night off the bench or what have you, but we have a really solid bench. And whether they’re scoring or not, I think that they’re making winning plays, they’re about the right things.”
The other staple for this team has been its defense. Impressively, none of Florida’s opponents have reached their season scoring average against the Gators. Overall, they rank 19th nationally in forcing an average of 16.6 turnovers per game. In SEC play, that number is up to 17.8 as they have maintained a +7.3 turnover advantage against conference foes.
That six-game winning streak is the longest in Florida’s two seasons under White and the program’s longest since a 30-game streak during the 2013-14 season.
White has liked the edge his players have played with on the road, and he doesn’t want to see that let up as the team returns to the comfort of Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center on Saturday.
“I have a big fear that we come out against Georgia without that edge. I think it’s easier to have an edge (on the road) — especially with this team because we’ve been on the road so much, we’ve been in neutral-site games so much, we haven’t had to rely upon our crowd and our home-court advantage,” White said. “So you go to Alabama, you go to Arkansas, there’s a certain level of fear, which I think is healthy, which gives our guys an edge that, ‘Hey, it’s us against the world. This is going to be very, very difficult.’ Somehow we need to replicate that at home, and although we’ve played pretty well at home and in spurts been really good defensively, we’ve made shots, we’ve got to play with that same edge. And I haven’t seen it.
“Tennessee punched us right in the mouth and they were the aggressor from the tip. We can’t allow that to happen (Saturday). We could end up digging ourselves too big of a hole to crawl out of. Again, we have a lot of respect as a program for the Georgia program. They’re going to be as physical as any team in our league, they defend as well as almost every team in our league if not every team. Their numbers every year are really good, they’re really sound, they block you out, they sprint up and down the court, they’re going to be really prepared. So it’s not about, ‘Hey, we’re 4-0 and we’re at home, we can take a deep breath.’ If that’s our mentality, we’re going to take an L.”
Florida has won 13 straight home meetings with Georgia, swept the season series last year and leads the all-time series with the Bulldogs, 111-100.
What time is tip-off?
Tip-off is scheduled for noon ET Saturday.
What TV channel is showing the Florida-Georgia game?
The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and can be streamed online via WatchESPN.
Who is calling the Florida-Georgia game?
Beth Mowins is on the play-by-play call and Dalen Cuff will be the analyst.
Looking at Georgia
The Bulldogs are led by 6-foot-8 junior forward Yante Maten, who is averaging 19.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, and senior point guard J.J. Frazier (16.1 points, 4.2 assists).
Maten is averaging 20.25 points and 9.5 rebounds per game over his last four contests, including a 31-point eruption against Auburn.
White was asked how the Gators will go about defending him.
“Man … by committee with a high level of focus and energy and intensity and respect, understanding how good the guy is,” White said. “It’s funny. Sometimes when you’re preparing for opponents, you can show a couple clips that will really catch a guy’s attention or your team’s attention. Whether it’s a guy going and putting his elbows on the rim or showing J.J. Frazier pulling up at full speed from 25 feet, you can really again catch your team’s attention with some of those highlights. And Yante is one of these guys that nothing’s really flashy, and you don’t truly appreciate it until you watch him over and over and over again. He’s one of the most productive guys not only in our league but in the country.”
Georgia’s lone loss in SEC play was a 67-61 defeat to South Carolina, which is unbeaten in the conference. The Bulldogs’ wins have come against Auburn (96-84), Missouri (71-66) and that blowout of Ole Miss (69-47).