Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin witnessed the ability of Florida senior point Chris Chiozza first hand during UF’s 66-60 win over Cincinnati on Saturday at the Never Forget Tribute Classic.
Chiozza finished with 15 points and six assists, including scoring the final six points that turned out to be the difference in the game.
“Great player,” Cronin said. “Give the kid a lot of credit. He’s smart. He made shots today. Takes care of the ball. Never gets tired. One of the better guards in the country.
“I think the key for them, obviously, is keeping him fresh. Somehow you’ve got to keep him fresh. It’s a long year. I’ve relied on a guy like that before, and it’s tough. You’ve got to find a way to keep a kid fresh.”
Chiozza logged 36 minutes in the win and is averaging 31.3 minutes per game, a significant jump from the career 22.9 minutes he averaged heading into his senior season. At 6 feet and 175 pounds, Chiozza has already absorbed his share of punishment driving the lane, suffering a bruised elbow during the preseason and bruised ribs and an elbow injury in UF’s overtime win over Gonzaga over Thanksgiving in Portland.
But considering Florida’s backup options at the point are freshman Mike Okauru and junior guard KeVaughn Allen, who isn’t a true point, the Gators are going to need to ride Chiozza for significant stretches the rest of the season. Florida coach Mike White said Chiozza is one of the toughest players he’s coached and has prepared himself during the offseason to take on more minutes.
Chiozza said it wasn’t his intention to “take over” the game down the stretch against Cincinnati, but the Memphis native certainly came up with some big shots and big plays in the final minute to help the Gators end a three-game losing streak.
“I just was trying to play for my team,” Chiozza said. “And I just happened to get a lateral break out from Jalen (Hudson) and two free throws and layup. I just had a chance to get one. I wasn’t really looking for shots. I was just trying to make good plays and that just fell into my hands.”
What: Orange Bowl Classic
Who: Clemson vs. Florida
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: BB&T Center in Sunrise
TV: Fox Sports Florida
Tickets: Orange Bowl ticket sales office at (305) 341-4701 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.