Florida senior point guard Chris Chiozza admitted he didn’t know what to expect when swingman Egor Koulechov joined the Gators last spring as a graduate transfer.
Last season, Chiozza witnessed graduate transfer swingman Canyon Barry provide a spark that helped the Gators reach the Elite Eight for the fifth time in seven seasons. But not all grad transfers adapt that well. Chiozza had not seen the 6-foot-5 Koulechov play his prior two seasons at Rice or his first season at Arizona State.
“He’s come in and he’s done more than I thought he would do,” Chiozza said. “I’m glad we got him.”
Koulechov has been instrumental in UF’s current six-game win streak and 4-0 start in SEC play. On Wednesday night, Koulechov scored UF’s first 13 points en route to a 23-point night in Florida’s 71-54 win over Mississippi State. Koulechov has shaken off a December slump, averaging 19.8 points and seven rebounds in SEC play. He’s shooting 50 percent from the field (25-50) and 65 percent from 3-point range (13-20) during that span.
“It’s nice to see him playing with confidence,” Florida coach Mike White said. “When it’s going for him, probably as much as anyone on our team, it gives us confidence because he’s one of this team’s leaders.”
Koulechov had been mired in a 5-for-29 slump from 3-point range in seven December games before SEC play began. White said he felt rest over Christmas break helped Koulechov physically and mentally. Koulechov has dealt with plantar fasciitis on and off this season, which White felt may have impacted his balance shooting the basketball.
“I’m balling it, but not trying to think about it,” Koulechov said. “Once you step out there, nobody cares that you’re hurt. It’s what you do on the court. I think mentally, the break did me good and everyone on the team cleared their mind. And that really helped.”
Koulechov has done more than just drain 3-pointers of late. Shooting an SEC-best 93.9 percent from the free-throw line, Koulechov went 10-for-10 from the foul line against Vanderbilt and is 16 of 18 in league play. At 6-foot-5 Koulechov has been versatile enough to play both forward positions and has held his own on the boards.
“I try to do what’s best for the team,” Koulechov said. “That’s what I told coach when I came here, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes for us to win.’ If I’ve got to do the little things: get more rebounding, more of the dirty work, I don’t mind that at all as long as you win.”
Koulechov ranks second on the Gators in scoring (15.5 ppg) and first in rebounding (6.8 rpg).
“Other than that slump there after the first six or eight games, he’s been terrific,” White said. “And he’s made a big jump defensively for us and he’s got great toughness as well.”
FREE THROWS: Freshman guard Deaundrae Ballard, who sat out Wednesday’s Mississippi State game due to an illness, went through a light lifting session, while Chiozza (strep throat) did some light work in practice Thursday. Both are expected to travel for UF’s next game Saturday at Ole Miss. … White offered no update on UF’s three injured big men — freshman center Isaiah Stokes (recovering from ACL surgery) could return in late January, but the jury is out on whether he will play this season or redshirt. Senior center John Egbunu (recovering from torn ACL) could return in late January at the earliest, while freshman forward Chase Johnson is still dealing with post-concussion symptoms and is out indefinitely.
Who: Florida (12-4, 4-0 SEC) vs. Mississippi (9-7, 2-2)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: The Pavilion at Ole Miss, Oxford, Miss.
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850