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).”