Sending the seniors off with a bang in the final home game of the season in Gainesville the Florida Gators dismantled the Kentucky Wildcats with a 80-67 win. Timely shot making and dogged defensive effort were the calling cards for Mike White’s squad today as Jalen Hudson and KeVaughn Allen found mesh on late shot clock heaves while Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone flew around the defensive side of the hardwood bothering Wildcats from sideline to sideline. Hudson was the high scorer for the Gators with 22 points, many coming at the end of beautiful dribble combination moves finishing with step back jumpers. Former Gators commit Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played the best basketball for the blue and white adding 17 points and 4 assists though his 5 turnovers delighted the home crowd and lead to multiple free points for the Gators in transition. The Gators are playing some of their best basketball of the year at the right time and now have a double-bye in the SEC Tournament to rest tired legs before attempting to better their NCAA Tournament seed with some victories and hopefully win a conference title.
After running a pick and pop that lead to a smooth Keith Stone 3-pointer Chris Chiozza was credited with the assist that gave him the record for the most all-time in Florida Gators history with 548 passing Erving Walker. For him to break this record at home on Senior Day was special and this is a record I think he’ll hold for some time. Congratulations to him!
Doing It All
Known primarily as a scorer, KeVaughn Allen flipped the script tonight by putting in a lot of extra effort on the glass to grab 7 rebounds and focusing on being a distributor putting in 7 assists. A knock on Allen’s game has been his inability to create for others but tonight it seemed like he was easily reading Kentucky’s defense and finding open players for layups. Chiozza has been one of the only playmakers on the team and if Allen can help in that area it will make Florida’s offense a lot more versatile.
Locking It Down
As Florida has been on their win streak a lot of the emphasis has been on their shot making but really it has been their defense that has overwhelmed teams. They did it again tonight limiting the Wildcats to 41% shooting from the field and forcing 13 turnovers (8 of them off of steals). Shooting comes and goes but if the Gators keep up the defensive intensity they have shown the last few games they will be a more consistent team than they get credit for. Hustle plays a large part in defensive intensity and the break the team now gets due to the double-bye they earned in the SEC Tournament should be incredibly valuable for the rest and recovery it will bring.
Senior Night Words
On the day where Florida’s seniors were honored by the team for Senior Day I thought I would give some quick thoughts on the players who played their final game in the O’Dome.
Chris Chiozza, my goodness was he a joy to watch as he paired his flashy passing ability with a grit and tenacity that belied his slight frame. Many players of his stature could have decided they would be just a shooter, leave the rebounding to the big men, and concede themselves as a defensive liability; instead Chiozza welcomed contact, prided himself on the glass, and became an all-conference defender. He embodied everything that it means to be a Gator, and I’m sure professional teams around the world will be competing for his services next year.
Egor Koulechov’s craftiness lead to a lot of baskets that left you with a smile on your face and they will be sorely missed. Using a pump fake or a fake dribble hand-off before exploding towards the hoop for an easy layup that left defenders pointing fingers never ceased to amuse me, while his ability to dial it up from range was always a treat too. Undersized to be a frontcourt player he took on the challenge of guarding some of the nation’s best big men this season and never complained about the 5 inches and 50 pounds guys would regularly have on him. With many teams vying for his commitment as a grad transfer I am very glad he chose Florida.
John Egbunu, the man who looks like he was carved out of granite. I’m still amazed and frankly intimidated when I gaze upon his physique and it breaks my heart that his knee betrayed him. I’ll always remember him for his powerful dunks and ability to swat shots into the 3rd row as well as his booming voice everytime he called out defensive coverages. He has a few options now in his basketball career including the possibility of coming back to Florida and having a second senior night but whatever he chooses, I wish him a speedy, full recovery and all the best in whatever is next.
What’s Up Next
The Gators look to make some noise in the SEC Tournament and rise a couple seed lines in the NCAA Tournament with some wins. Every team in the SEC is a tough out but that means every game is an opportunity for a quality win. It should be a great tournament so keep it locked to Gator Country for all your Gator basketball needs.