GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Gators coach Mike White has tried just about everything.


Individual meetings, team meetings and an assortment of drills in practice, all in an attempt to get his players to show more toughness than they have early this season.

“For us to be a really good team, to max out as a team, we have to get tougher,” White said. “So we’re searching for different ways.”

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Maybe facing some of the toughest competition in the country will bring out that tenacity.

After three home wins over mid-major programs, No. 7 Florida (3-0) opens the PK80 college basketball tournament against Pac-12 opponent Stanford (3-2) on Thursday in Portland, Ore.

The Thanksgiving night (10 p.m., ESPN2) showdown starts a stretch of three games in four days that should give the Gators a good look at how they stack up against possible NCAA Tournament teams.

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“This is an opportunity for Stanford and us and everyone else in this type of setting to rally around this type of setting,” White said. “It’s going to be difficult — win or loss — for all of these teams come that third game in four days. I mean, we’re going to have to muster up some stuff.”

The 16-team field, which is broken into two brackets, was organized to honor Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s 80th birthday and includes perennial contenders.

Florida will play either Gonzaga or Ohio State on Friday before wrapping up the tournament Sunday.

That could mean a game against several teams, including No. 1 Duke. The Blue Devils are off to a perfect start and have shown plenty of offensive firepower to challenge a Gators defense that White believes still needs massive improvement.

But for now, UF’s third-year coach is entirely focused on Stanford.

The Cardinal, which lost 96-72 to No. 9 North Carolina on Monday, features talented forward Reid Travis, who is averaging 21.2 points and 6.6 rebounds in 35 minutes per game this season. Also, forward Michael Humphrey is averaging 12.2 points and 10.6 rebounds, part of a lineup that has much more talent than Florida’s previous opponents.

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“We know it’s a great opportunity to show what kind of team we’re going to be this year, or what kind of team we can be, going against these teams,” Chris Chiozza said.

So far, the Gators have looked, offensively, like a high-powered team, able to score at a better rate than the group that advanced to the Elite Eight last season. White has acknowledged as much, saying the team’s ceiling on that end of the floor is higher than a year ago.

Led by Egor Koulechov’s 20.3 points per game, the Gators are tied for 10th in the country in scoring at 98 points per game. Jalen Hudson (18 points per game) and KeVaughn Allen (10.7 points per game) are also key parts of a diverse offense that is shooting 49 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from behind the arc.

A nice start, but White has told his players that success will mean little if they don’t begin to play with more grit. Starting now.

“It’s not who we are right now, and I don’t think we’ll hang our hat on it, either,” White said. “I don’t think you will ever look at this team and say, ‘My goodness, wow, they’re incredibly tough.’

“But, you know, if we’re a three right now, I’m certainly shooting for us to become a six or a seven here the next couple of months.”

This article is written by Phillip Heilman from The Florida Times-Union and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.



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