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News Story - No. 22 Florida would like to see 'big jump' on defense

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No. 22 Florida would like to see 'big jump' on defense

(AP Photo/Ron Irby, File)

By MARK LONG

AP Sports Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida coach Mike White would like to see a "big jump" in his team's defensive performance.

It might not happen until February.

The No. 22 Gators (6-3) rank 27th in Ken Pomeroy's college basketball defensive efficiency ratings, their lowest spot since 2012. It's the main concern for White heading into Saturday's game against Clemson (8-1) in Sunrise, about a five-hour drive south of campus.

"Do I feel a crunch or a little bit of pressure in terms where we are and where we have to get better? Yeah. I'm not going to lie," White said. "I'm disappointed with the way we've defended. It starts with me. I'm pleased that we've made some baby steps here recently, but we have to make a big jump. We do."

The Gators, who ended a three-game losing streak by beating Cincinnati last weekend in New Jersey, have really struggled in two key defensive areas: In the paint and in transition.

Florida has been outscored by a whopping 60 points in the post over the last five games. Playing without center John Egbunu has been a major part of the problem, and White said this week that the 6-foot-11 senior won't return from a torn ligament in his left knee until late January.

Adding to Florida's inside issues: Backup center Gorjok Gak has been slowed by knee soreness, forward Chase Johnson has missed the last five games because of an undisclosed illness and forward Isaiah Stokes hasn't played this season while recovering from knee surgery.

"We're decimated in the front line right now," White said, adding that the injuries have forced him to use walk-ons and student managers in practice.

All those injuries might explain the post problems, but White has no answers for why Florida's transition defense has been so shaky.

The Gators need to sprint back on defense, quickly get in defensive stances, communicate better and become mentally tougher, White said.

"The urgency level there has to be a panic in transition defense for at least your first three or four steps," White said. "And then we've got to communicate at a higher level. We have a really quiet team. We have guys that are very introverted. But we can't be introverted in transition defense or we have no chance."

Florida showed signs of progress against the Bearcats, holding them to two points on the break and 36 in the paint.

"We need to find ways to win games when we're not hitting those 3s, when we're not scoring 90 points a game," senior guard Egor Koulechov said. "That was the first time this year that we really just found a way. That was big for us.

"There was a sense of urgency to get a lot better in a lot of areas, especially defense and in transition. That's an emphasis for us."

White spent two practices this week honing defensive techniques and fundamentals. He'd like to have a bunch more, but Florida has three games in six days before a short holiday break and then the start of Southeastern Conference play.

"We probably needed to have four or five practices where the entire practices were on transition defense for three hours," White said. "I didn't know we would be this porous. We've made some adjustments as a staff; our guys need to make some adjustments. They know. They're bought into the fact that these are the things we've got to get better at. Are we willing to pay that price and really get out of our comfort zone, communicate at a higher level?

"Our urgency defensively is just not near where it's got to be. It's all on me."

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Updated December 15, 2017

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