Gators learn more about themselves at PK80 Tournament

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Florida's Chris Chiozza is coming off a strong showing at the Phil Knight Invitational tournament in Portland, Ore., last week. [Timothy J. Gonzalez/Associated Press]

Florida coach Mike White learned that his team is capable of scoring with anyone at PK80 Tournament in Portland, Ore.

The defense, however, remains a work in progress.

The No. 6 Gators (5-1) will continue to work toward growing on both ends of the floor this week before facing rival Florida State on Monday night (9 p.m., ESPN2). Florida leads the nation in scoring at 99.5 points per game and has scored more than 100 points in four of six games this season.

Against higher-level competition, Florida’s offense remained dynamic. The Gators overwhelmed Stanford 108-87 and outlasted Gonzaga 111-105 in double overtime before falling 87-84 to No. 1 Duke in the PK80 Tournament final.

“We’re a talented offensive group, for sure,” White said. “We’re willing to share the basketball. Our skill level is what was expected — and our defense is about what we expected, and that’s not good enough at this point in the season.”

White said he was pleased with UF’s resilience in the Gonzaga double-overtime win. Senior point guard Chris Chiozza stepped up with his best game as a Gator, making several big shots and big plays to finish with a career-high 26 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for a near triple double. The six-foot Chiozza took a beating going through the lane in the process and had to be treated following the game for bruised ribs and an elbow injury.

“The toughness that we showed late in the Gonzaga game, the mental and physical toughness, led by Chris, and I thought he really stepped up as a leader during the weekend,” White said. “And I think people are looking at him on our team, especially the young guys, I think they look at him a little bit differently than they looked at him a month ago, that wow, this guy has been there and done that and it’s amazing what he accomplished.”

The glaring weakness for the Gators defensively remains the post. Florida was outscored 54-28 in the paint against Gonzaga and 38-34 in the paint against Duke. Gonzaga 6-foot-9 senior forward Johnathan Williams had his way inside with 39 points against the Gators, while Duke freshman center Marvin Bagley III had 30 points and 10 rebounds.

By playing four-guard lineups, Florida has displayed plenty of perimeter punch, averaging 11.5 3-pointers per game. It’s also left the Gators vulnerable inside, though White said he feels like his guards are playing tough enough through size mismatches.

“We’re struggling with our interior defense, from our interior guys, as much as anything else — and they’re more capable than that,” White said. “They’ve shown that in the past.”

In addition to Chiozza, Florida junior guard Jalen Hudson showed the ability to step up in big moments, scoring a career-high 35 points against Gonzaga and averaging 25.3 points over the three tournament games to earn SEC player of the week honors. The 6-foot-6 Hudson is averaging a team-high 21.7 points per game, shooting 55 percent from the floor and 48.7 percent from 3-point range.

“I’m just trying to continue to improve,” Hudson said. “Obviously, we didn’t do enough to win against Duke. That’s our main focus right now, to get better. I thought we showed that we did some good things out there. Obviously we’re not close to where we need to be. I think we let that one go for sure and I think most people would say that. We’ve just been getting back after it and trying to prepare for Florida State.”

At No. 6, Florida is ranked at its highest since being No. 1 going into the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Unlike last season, Florida will be a targeted team for the remainder of a December non-conference schedule that includes FSU, No. 11 Cincinnati in Newark, N.J., on Dec. 9 and Clemson at the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise on Dec. 16.

“I’m sure that the competitors get even more of an edge knowing that we’re No. 6,” Hudson said. “So, it just gives us more of a reason to show up every night.”

White said the week off gives the Gators a chance to recoup both physically and mentally from the Portland trip, while trying to continue to get better.

“Chris, Egor (Koulechov), KeVaughn Allen played a bunch of minutes,” White said. “Jalen Hudson’s played the most minutes he’s played in a couple years, of course. So they … physically, mentally, just so beat up. And it was good to have a couple days (off).”

10 COMMENTS

  1. Good article, Kevin. And whether it was Florida scoring 100-plus points in their opening two games for the first time in school history. Or when Jalen Hudson scored 22 of his 26 points in the second half against New Hampshire. Or when Florida went 15 of 22 for 45 pts. in 3’s as a team against Stanford, this team is ”fun to watch” (like A.D. Stricklin wants for football). And I know as these Gators ”continue to improve”, they’ll even be more ”fun to watch!” GO GATORS!

  2. Gotta learn how to finish when up by 17, can’t remember the last time UF basketball beat a top 5 team in Nov/Dec, never take your foot off the gas and coast, no such thing as a good loss.

    • I am hoping coach learned from the Duke game as well. Chiozza is not in-exhaustible. He has been GREAT this year but eventually everyone runs out of gas.

  3. When Egbunu returns, White can really hum with the 4-guard offense and a 6-10 giant in the paint.
    ‘While Egbunu is not really fast, he CAN play defense and rebound. And he can put in 8-10 pts. a game. Looking forward to SEC play in January and then the Big Dance. Gators make the Final Four, according to my computer program.

  4. Not many teams on our schedule will have the talent of Duke’s frontcourt. We’ll get by with double teams and defensive schemes for a single dominant post player.

    There’s been a lot of improvement in our post play and it needs to continue. Egbunu can’t be expected to be much of a factor until he plays his way back into shape and shakes the rust off. Until then we have to strive for balance in offense and better defense.

  5. Egbunu and we need to burn the red shirt on Stokes. You don’t have many opportunities to have a team that could really win it all and when cheese, Egbunu and 3-Gor gone next year you have to take your shot so Stokes would really help. Yes it will take a while to knock off the rust but they should both be back in Jan as I recall so they have the entire SEC run to get in shape. If you ask Stokes I bet he would want to play having chance to contribute to a legit shot at a Championship….

  6. We are extremely talented but I don’t believe the 4 guard offense will work once we play against the better teams on the road and if we advance in the NCAA’s which is the ultimate goal! It doesn’t give you enough defensively and offensively the pace will slow down due to the pressure and you’ll face better defenses and we won’t have the inside game to help out and we won’t get as many rebounds. It’s recipe for an upset in the NCAA’s. Hopefully, Coach White will make adjustments but from the statements above it doesn’t appear so.

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