Todd Golden previews Florida’s upcoming game at Alabama

Florida basketball remains on the road as they travel to Tuscaloosa on Wednesday night to face the high-flying Alabama Crimson Tide. Winners of seven of their last eight games, the Gators have quite a bit of momentum coming into this big-time Southeastern Conference clash.

‘Bama comes into the game ranked No. 13 in the AP Poll vs. the No. 24 Orange and Blue, which made its first appearance in the rankings since 2021 this week. Both teams are 18-7 overall but the home team has a superior 10-2 record in SEC play while the visitors bring in an 8-4 mark.

Florida rides a three-game winning streak while Alabama has won its last two.

Ahead of the clash of the two conference titans, Gators head coach Todd Golden spoke to the media and this is what he had to offer.

On Alabama's offense

Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

They’re No. 1 offensively in the nation for a reason and a big part of that is because they’re super-talented on the offensive side of the ball. It’s not just the three-point shooting.

Obviously, they’re efficient from two, as well. And they play multiple guys who can dribble, pass and shoot it. It’s going to be a really, really tough cover, for sure.

On how Alabama will test Florida's defense

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

We didn’t have a great week defensively last week. I was still really pleased to get two wins, but we had been making some gains on that end, and then against LSU we weren’t great.

First half against Georgia, again, not good. And to your point, we have to a lot better for us to get as far as we can go — and Alabama is probably not the team you want to see if you’re trying to get better the next week.

But it will definitely give us an opportunity to go out there, maybe try a few different new things and take on that challenge of trying to disrupt them on their homecourt, which is going to be a big challenge.

On earning a spot in the AP Top 25

Doug Engle/Ocala Star-Banner
Doug Engle/Ocala Star-Banner

Absolutely. We talked about it yesterday. It’s a good accomplishment, a really nice accomplishment for our team to be recognized for the way we’ve been playing.

But the thing we talked a lot about, if we’re looking back at the end of March and we’re saying, “When we got ranked 24th that was the highlight of our season,” then we’re going to be disappointed.

We’re trying to keep things in perspective. The first time was when we beat Kentucky on the road. OK, now we’re ranked. We’re making progress. But really just trying to focus on this game as one step of part of the process, as opposed to the end goal or something we’re happy about. No. We have six games left, conference tournament and hopefully the NCAAs.

We’ve been playing pretty well and we’re going to see if we can continue to sustain that success. We’ve been able to do it for a couple of weeks, but obviously, Wednesday night provides a much different challenge.

On how his team will handle its national recognition

Doug Engle/Ocala Star Banner
Doug Engle/Ocala Star Banner

I think we’ve done a good job of that. After the Auburn game, that was one of those moments. We played great against Auburn. Probably couldn’t have played much better.

We come back a couple nights later and against what I think is a really talented LSU team and… we played really well, with the exception of the last 10 minutes. We were up 20 again.

We’ve done a good job. I think our veterans have done a good job of setting the pace that way, but our young guys have also been really mature about it and not allowed it to disrupt our focus or take us off task. Regardless of what happens Wednesday, I think this team will be really good about staying the course.

On the room Florida has to grow

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

That’s the thing. That’s what, as a staff, we’re kind of working around. We’ve obviously been playing very well. We won seven out of eight, but we haven’t had — with the exception of maybe the Auburn game — a game where we put it all together.

When we played Auburn, I feel like we would have beat anybody in the country on that day in this gym, and I’m not sure it would have been close. But we haven’t had another effort like that since, and we hadn’t had one before with the exception maybe at Kentucky, but it wasn’t like a dominant, dominant effort. It was just a really good effort.

So to your point, like we haven’t all hit our strides on the same day with the exception of one game. I think we have room to do that. And we have a lot of room to improve on the defensive end. We’re playing well offensively. We’re obviously a top-10 team in America on that end, but a lot of room for improvement defensively.

I think our talent is better defensively than we’ve been performing. Those are areas of growth and areas that I think we can continue to get better throughout the rest of the year.

On Thomas Haugh being an example of patience

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Him and Alex have been incredibly valuable for this team all year, whether it’s them playing a lot or just what they bring to our program every day. They’re great, great competitors and they’re young.

So the fact that you have freshmen that bring it every day like that is unique, and I think it’s been a big reason why we’ve been so good. They’re great teammates.

Tommy, he’s gonna be as happy after a win whether he plays five minutes or whether he plays 27 minutes like he did on Saturday. And that’s not normal, especially like nowadays, and I think that’s something that’s really valuable.

But those guys, the young guys, the freshmen, they’re great teammates. The fact that they’re taken on this role coming off the bench and just doing whatever we’re asking them to do.

I mean, they finished the game for us on Saturday. They played the last four minutes of the game, both freshmen did in a really tough environment in a game that was really important, and I thought they did a great job.

On how players can earn his trust

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Really, since they got here, just the way they’ve approached everything on a day-to-day basis, their maturity and then their production. They’ve both been good.

For this league, to have two guys that are in your rotation that are freshmen — outside of Kentucky and Bama, we’re the only other program in the league that has that — they’re just playing beyond their years.

They’re mature. They’re a little consistent like most freshmen, but they’re reliable, they show up every day, great attitude and they really care a lot about winning, So they’re huge and they’ve been really valuable for us all year.

On encouraging playing with instincts on defense but staying disciplined

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

I think it’s a really delicate balance. Obviously you want your guys to be more proactive than reactive defensively a lot of times, but a lot of our scheme defensively (is) we don’t want guys to gamble or to make aggressive plays that might put us in risk on the backside of our defense.

So it’s a fine line. It’s a balance. And we probably should be a little more aggressive defensively, but we are more scout-driven and tendencies-driven, so we want guys to be on the scout more than just relying on their instincts. But it’s a delicate balance that we probably need to strike a better balance of, for sure.

On creating more consistency with late-game shooting

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We just try to play a lot and play in pressure situations. So when you do that, then you have a good chance of the game feeling a lot like practice. And for me and the way I think about it, you kind of sink to the level of your preparation as opposed to rising to the occasion of a game.

And so that’s where the practice reps and playing 5-on-5 a lot, especially late in the season, I think is important for us.

On avoiding a 'trading threes' mentality against Alabama

Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images
Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images

Gotta have toughness. You know, gotta be mentally tough and have a great understanding of what our game plan is going in. And just understanding that on their home floor that’s the game that they want to play.

But at the same time, we gotta stay aggressive too. You know, we’re a top-10 offensive team. We played really well in transition and we’re really efficient that way too.

So again, we’ve said this a lot, but it’s the balance of running when you have opportunities but also not being stubborn. And I think the situations that get you in trouble in this game is when you are too aggressive in disadvantaged situations.

You might be playing two-on-three and you try to make a play and it gets blocked and now they’re going the other way. Like, you gotta avoid those swing play situations and that’ll be crucial on Wednesday night.”

On what makes Alabama a challenging team to cover

Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images
Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images

They shoot the ball so well and they have multiple guys that can make plays. They play small. They have been. They’ve been starting small. I thought Auburn did a good job of taking advantage of that on Auburn’s home floor when they won.

But you know, Rylan Griffen is playing the 4, so to speak, or Aaron Estrada, one of those two guys with Wrightsell and with Sears. Like, those are four really skilled shooters and guys that don’t need a lot of space or separation to get it off.

They really try to spread you out and you gotta pick your poison a little bit, for sure.

On potentially matching Alabama with smaller personnel

Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images
Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images

I don’t think so. I think it will be pretty consistent and try to take advantage of our size and physicality against them and live with it where it lands. Again, it’s been good for us all year and we’ve tried to stay away from playing small.

But if it calls for it, it does. I’m not saying we won’t do it, but we’ll see if we can take advantage of our size for sure inside.

On the dynamic of facing teams that play smaller fours

Doug Engle/Ocala Star Banner
Doug Engle/Ocala Star Banner

It’s a challenge defensively sometimes, but over the course of the last couple months, I think it’s definitely balanced out more our way when it’s all said and done in terms of who’s been more of an advantage. We’re rebounding really well still.

When teams play like that against us, we finish better inside. So there are no solutions to just trade-offs. So trying to find that balance of what’s better for us or the opponent. Sometimes the margin’s razor thin.

But yeah, it’s definitely harder to guard for us.

On the emphasis on three-point defense

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

We’re gonna try. We’ll try. Still trying to drill down on the best way to guard them or to kind of fundamentally think about how we want to guard them and what we want to live with and when we don’t.

So we’ll clean that up today at practice and then walk through tomorrow. But it’s easy to say, hey, we really want to guard the three, but they’re also very efficient from two. A lot of that is when teams are really stretched out, trying to take away threes to get in, you know, and driving situations and two-on-ones at the rim, which is not a recipe for success either.

So I think for me, sometimes especially on the road, you kind of want to live with the volatility from three a little bit and see what happens. But that’s a good way to get yourself shot out of it also quickly, and you just got to see what happens.

We’ll have a couple of different looks for him. We won’t guard them the same way all night, but they’re definitely a challenge.

On what enabled Florida's 300-plus spot improvement year-over-year in offensive rebounding

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

I would say recruiting. And then systematically, we’re just we’re a lo different this year. The second half of the year last year we were playing 4 on 1 with Colin and we really spread teams out.

Our best way to win last year was spreading teams out and trying to play with a high effective field-goal percentage offensively. But we weren’t getting a lot of second chances. And this year, we thought we thought it would raise our floor if we played a little bigger, got better on the glass and did a good job of taking care of the ball. And knock on wood it’s worked out that way.

Did I think we’d be the No. 2 offensive rebounding team in the country? No. I didn’t. I thought we’d be a lot better, but not that much better. But I would say that’s kind of the leading indicator of why we’ve improved so much this year, along with this past month or so the way we’ve been taking care of the bal.

Those two things together have made us really good offensively.

Next up

Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images
Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images

Florida travels to Tuscaloosa for its next matchup on Wednesday, Feb. 21, against Alabama. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. ET and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Read more

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index has Florida an underdog at Alabama

Florida basketball cracks AP top 25 for first time in Golden era

Florida still outside USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll in Week 16 update

Gators leap into CBS Sports’ college basketball top 25 rankings

Florida enters The Athletic’s top 25 rankings following recent success

Gators switch regions in USA TODAY Sports bracketology update


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