GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida basketball coach Mike White gave his players a day off Sunday to clear their heads after a two-game losing skid, and when the Gators reassembled Monday they decided it was time for a team meeting.
A long team meeting.
“I liked our approach yesterday when we came in,” White said Tuesday. “… I meet with each of our guys every day individually and I liked some of the responses I got to some of my questions. I liked some of the points that some of our guys brought up. A few of our guys suggested meeting yesterday. That’s what we did. We watched film on the Vandy game and then we met for a long time. I think it was productive, to this point. We’ll see how much carryover we have.”
White’s main point of emphasis is on sustaining a consistent defensive focus as his No. 25 Gators (14-5, 5-2 SEC) look to break out of that two-game slump Wednesday night at LSU (9-9, 1-6).
To drive home that point, he shared a stat with his players, which he tried to recall from memory Tuesday.
“We talked for so long yesterday as a staff, so long as a team and then we jumped into LSU, of course. We’re kind of in a fog here, but I’ll do my best,” he said. “Defensively, against the 12 highest-rated opponents that we’ve played, the first four minutes of second halves we’re giving up 76 percent from the field — 76 percent. And a defensive rebounding percentage of 60 percent. And offensively, we have 5 assists to 12 turnovers. So, it’s all of the above to start second halves.”
This is not a new problem, he feels, but one that continues to vex him.
He said the coaching staff started working to correct this earlier in the season, creating halftimes during practice for the first time in his coaching career. He’s tried having the team watch more film at halftime. He’s also tried having the team watch less film at halftime.
“It hasn’t helped,” he said. “… I don’t get it. I don’t understand. The other team has to get themselves going too. It seems like just about every game the other team does a better job of that. I’ve got to keep searching. I haven’t found the answer. Our guys, to a certain extent, have to put it on themselves as well. We addressed it again yesterday. … If we’re not bought into it after those numbers were given to our guys yesterday, I’m not sure we’re going to get bought into it. It might just be a personnel deal.”
In that regard, White said he might determine his second-half starting lineup based on who is giving the most energy in the first half, regardless of scoring production or any other stats.
Florida dropped six spots in the AP Poll to No. 25 this week after a 57-53 loss at then-No. 24 South Carolina and a 68-66 home loss to Vanderbilt last week. That snapped a seven-game win streak for the Gators.
It wasn’t so much those first five minutes of the second half that undid the Gators against the Commodores — they still led by 5 points midway through the half, matching their halftime lead — but Vanderbilt used a 12-0 run at that point to seize control of the game. The lead traded sides from there before the visitors eventually pulled out the victory.
And the numbers show pretty clearly that overall the Gators are prone to second-half defensive letdowns. Over their last 14 games, starting with a marquee matchup against Gonzaga, they’ve given up more points after halftime in all but one game. Just looking at SEC play alone, Florida is holding opponents to 39.0 percent shooting (73 of 187) in the first half while allowing 50.6 percent from the field (88 of 174) after halftime.
Sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen said he was “pretty sure everybody” spoke up during that team meeting Monday while reiterating the main takeaway from the conversation.
“What I got out of the meeting yesterday was that we got to play defense and we just got to limit whatever distractions that may be going on. We just got to continue to stay focused,” Allen said.
Defensive focus is the main point White wants to resonate with his players, but there’s another aspect to it as well.
“Not handling success real well, which we have talked about for a long time and we’ve talked with our team about for a long time,” White said. “We’re not a good enough team to think we’ve accomplished something because someone votes us to be in the Top 25 or because we open league play with a big win at Arkansas. We were 1-0 at that point, and really since then our defensive numbers have steadily declined. Our attention to detail on that end hasn’t been the same — even through wins. We’ve been fortunate in a couple games where we beat a good opponent but we didn’t play up to our capability defensively. It’s not something that you play with.
“I’m hopeful we get back to that level of defending. If our focus is right and we sell back out to it, as opposed to coming into games with our focus on different things. … We’re capable of being really good defensively. We’ve shown it at times. That’s the challenge to our guys right now.”