When the Florida Gators basketball team left the Stephen C. O’Connell Center court after defeating the Arkansas Razorbacks 87-83 on Wednesday night, head coach Mike White needed a minute to catch his breath back.
“Last minute of the game I feel like I aged a year. [Arkansas] would not go away. They were incredible offensively.”
The last surge by the Razorbacks though was just one part of a game with many facets. This mid-week matchup provided the Gators with multiple story lines coming out of the game, and future opponents more to worry about in the scouting report.
There was John Egbunu who didn’t check into the game until the 5:45 mark of the first half. He answered the bell after being sat due to a week of practice not conducive to starting, and responded with 14 points—most of them coming in the slamming variety. That hustle and fight was what White needed to see to keep Egbunu in the game.
“Wasn’t his best week but I thought he responded with maturity and helped his team win,” said White.
“It’s one of his better games. He scored 14…I thought he played with a lot of poise there when he was doubled and the whole crowd, all the Rowdies are yelling ‘pass the ball, you’re doubled’. It gets a little frantic there and…showed some poise there. Thought he looked like a live active athlete and thought he played really hard.”
Egbunu wasn’t the only one to find the rim though, as forward Devin Robinson provided the second half to a Sports Center Top 10 worthy Ally-Oop from Chris Chiozza that brought the O-Dome and bench alike to it’s feet (it ended up coming in at number 4 on the daily list). Robinson has been somewhat gun shy since suffering a rib contusion in early league play but found his way back to where he’s most comfortable with the easy lob. Chiozza saw the opportunity for the ease as well and never doubted what D-Rob would do with his lob.
“I seen [Devin] cut back door when I drove the lane,” explained Chiozza, “and I knew that he was gonna catch it when I threw it up there cause the defender stepped up. 6-9, super athletic; I knew he was gonna dunk it if I threw it up there.”
Started it just in time.
— Kassidy Hill (@KassidyGHill) February 4, 2016
Chiozza was actually part of another duo that made it’s mark on the game; the one of him and Kasey Hill.
Playing the two guards together was something Mike White had flirted with early in the year, mostly in press conference game ideas. When going with a small three guard lineup against the West Virginia press worked so well though (the Gators won that matchup 88-71) White stuck with the lineup and sent Hill and Chiozza along with freshman KeVaughn Allen all on the court together. It worked again and Chiozza with Hill showed they have the ability to become a go-to One-Two punch.
“Both of them early in the year, you know they’re fighting for the same spot, going at each other’s throats every day in practice,” said White.
“To be complimenting each other now shows togetherness and teamwork and it shows some maturity. Sometimes if Chris is in a pretty good rhythm and Kasey’s got the ball I’ll say ‘no reset, Kasey give it to Chris’ and Kasey doesn’t necessarily like hearing that and vice versa. When Kasey gets in a really goo rhythm coming off ball screens, we may reset and play him at the point but it’s a nice problem to have.”
Together they combined for 28 points and 10 assists. Then in an “ok well then” stat, Kasey Hill also finished with two blocks on the night.
A large part of all this success though stems back to the stern that leads the Gators boat—Dorian Finney-Smith. He is their unquestionable and unequivocal leader in every way, a role he has grown immensely more comfortable in as of late. He finished the night with a team high 22 points and nine rebounds while shooting .1000 from the free throw line, always there when no one else is, doing the job that needs doing at any given point in any given area of the court. One snapshot of this is a play that he won’t get any credit for in the box score, but made a massive different.
With just under 10 minutes left in the game, the Hogs had pulled within three and where showing signs of a comeback. Down in the Gators end of the court John Egbunu was caught in one of those double teams White spoke of that looked more like a mugging. There was a brief moment he even lost the ball but was able to dribble it back. Still he stood there trying to fight around two defenders and finding it a losing battle. Finney-Smith dropped down to help, took the pass from the unsuspecting defenders and immediately fed it to Kasey Hill who was able to make the layup and give Florida a little more breathing room. These are the sorts of moments White expects to see every night from Doe-Doe.
“I don’t know that we can continue to expect him to play at this level in terms of those offensive numbers,” admitted White.
“Those rebounding numbers, you’d like to depend on, we’d like to get him to the offensive glass a little more like he’s showing in certain games. But certain teams are gonna really key in on him. We’ve played a couple of league games where it was difficult to get him shots, whether it was us trying to call something for him or whether it was his teammates trying to get him the ball. Certain teams, just depending on the scouting reports certain nights, he may get 18 shots. Or there may be certain nights where we have to win with him getting 6 shots. But on those nights, maybe he can step up and get some offensive rebounds for us, get to the foul line and draw fouls and maybe his assists are up.”
All of these moments and guys led to the Gators fifth win in their last six games. There were other key moments as well, but all together it comes out as a team that’s learning how to gel together. They’ve found their strengths, their weaknesses and what it’s going to take to win night in and night out. Now they will try to keep this all together as they travel to Lexington for one of, if not their biggest test to date. The Florida Gators basketball team will face the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday February 6. Tip off is set for 4pm on CBS, and as always follow along on GatorCountry.com for full coverage and updates.