College basketball: Clock is ticking for Florida to improve NCAA tourney resume
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida's postseason resume is about as shaky as the team's shooting right now.
The Gators (17-11, 8-7 Southeastern Conference) have lost three in a row and six of eight in league play. Little has gone right since early January, leaving coach Mike White's team in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons.
This one would be a huge failing since Florida was ranked as high as No. 5 in December and looked as if it could play with any team in the country.
No one would be surprised to see the Gators falter at this point, especially given the team's schedule down the stretch.
Florida hosts 12th-ranked Auburn (24-4, 12-3) on Saturday night and then plays at Alabama and against Kentucky to end the regular season. The Tigers can clinch at least a share of the SEC title and the top seed in the upcoming conference tournament with a victory.
"I'm really not looking forward to any matchups vs. Auburn," White said Friday. "They're terrific offensively, defensively. Who knows? ... With this current Gator team, it's more about our mindset, our level of edge, excitement, intensity, lack of entitlement. Those are the factors.
"A lot of our factors are between our ears — unselfishness, playing together, making the extra pass, how defense is affected by offense, our communication, which is outside the ears, of course. But sometimes it's listening."
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Making matter worse, Florida's free-throw shooting dropped to 60 percent the last three games while the team also missed half of its 32 layups.
"The layup thing, it's been very frustrating all year," White said. "I don't know what else to do. We just keep doing what we're doing. We'll change up the drills. We've done a bunch of finishing at the rim, versus contact, versus no contract, versus defense, no defense. Sixth-grade drills, eighth-grade drills, college drills. You name it, we do it.
"We're going to shoot as many free throws today as we've shot all year. We shoot a lot of them. ... I believe in our guys at the foul line. I'm hoping and praying on the close twos."
Florida's issues have been evident for months. With senior center John Egbunu still recovering from a knee injury sustained more than a year ago, the Gators have little inside presence. So opponents stretch the floor on Florida's shooters and beg undersized, not-so-physical guards to drive to the basket. And the Gators usually miss contested shots in the paint.
Junior KeVaughn Allen also has gone missing. He went scoreless for the first time in 84 games at Tennessee on Wednesday. He has 37 points in the last five games.
"I'm swinging away," White said. "We met for a long, long time. The longest meeting we've had, just trying to encourage him, trying to challenge him. ... I can't express it any more clearly that we've got to have him be aggressive for us."
The Gators need Allen to get back on track beginning against Auburn, which has scored at least 75 points in 10 consecutive games.
Florida has won 10 straight in the series and probably needs to make it 11 in a row to lock up a return to the NCAA Tournament.
"Obviously, we have to win," guard Jalen Hudson said. "If we can get these last three, I think we'll be in a pretty good situation. Auburn's is going to be tough. They're No. 1 in our conference right now, but I think we can get them."