Three observations following Florida’s loss to Duke in the PK80 Tournament finals:
— Despite being more experienced than Duke, Florida was the shakier team down the stretch. The Gators had a couple of loud turnovers late, with senior point guard Chris Chiozza getting the ball stolen by Trevon Duval with 1:15 left and junior guard Jalen Hudson losing his dribble with 12 seconds remaining and Florida down 85-84. Chiozza said fatigue may have played a role in UF’s poor offensive execution down the stretch as Florida coach Mike White shortened the bench rotation in the title game against the No. 1 team in the country. Chiozza and junior guard KeVaughn Allen each played 35 minutes, while Hudson played 36 minutes and guard Egor Koulechov played 34 minutes. Backup freshman point guard Mike Okauru played only three minutes and perhaps could have been used for longer stretches to give Chiozza a breather.
— Another reason why Florida was unable to hold a 17-point second half lead was post defense and defensive rebounds. The undersized Gators were able to hold their own with Duke on the glass until the final five minutes, when the Blue Devils outrebounded the Gators 8-1 (Duke outrebounded Florida 43-36 for the game). Florida junior center Kevarrius Hayes had a sure fire offensive rebound wrestled away from him. Freshmen Marvin Bagley III and Duval had back to back putback baskets to cut UF’s lead to 82-74 and begin Duke’s late charge. The 6-11 Bagley scored 30 points and Florida was again outscored 38-34 in the paint. There’s a risk-reward in playing four-guard starting lineups and one of those risks is getting beat on the glass and being unable to match up in the post. Hayes, 6-8 forward Keith Stone and 6-11 Gorjok Gak are going to need to play tougher inside until senior center John Egbunu returns in January.
— Freshman guard Deaundrae Ballard was productive off the bench for the Gators with 6 points and 2 rebounds, and also had a nice save on a ball going out of bounds. The 6-5 Ballard is gaining more and more trust from UF’s coaching staff and possesses and excellent work ethic. Ballard should be able to continue to help the Gators throughout the season with his athletic play.