DALLAS — When sixth-seed Florida faces third-seed Texas Tech in a Round of 32 matchup at the American Airlines Center on Saturday night, the Gators will see a familiar face on the opposing sidelines.
Texas Tech junior Brandone Francis spent two seasons in Gainesville, playing as a redshirt freshman in 2015-16 under then first-year Florida coach Mike White. But after averaging 2.0 points in one season with the Gators, Francis, who then went by Brandone Francis-Ramirez, opted to transfer.
Francis would not get into the specific reasons for why he left UF.
“I don’t feel comfortable talking about that,” Francis said. “It was a decision, it happened but I’m happy to be here now. I love Texas Tech. I love Lubbock. I’m really thankful of the opportunity that Coach (Chris) Beard gave me.”
Francis compared the decision to a relationship breakup.
“It’s like when you had a girlfriend and you go through stuff and things don’t work out and you meet someone else and she was Texas Tech,” Francis said. “Just really happy to have a second opportunity in life and Texas Tech is that opportunity.”
Francis said during the transfer process, he only made one visit, and realized that Texas Tech was the school he wanted to go to based on his first meeting with Beard.
“Coach Beard laid it out for me,” Francis said. “I wanted to be coached. I wanted to break some habits that I had in the past. I wanted to become better. I felt Coach Beard had all that and I was right. He changed my life. He changed my habits.”
After sitting out last season per transfer rules, Francis has accepted a role off the bench for the Raiders, averaging 5.3 points while shooting 39.7 percent from 3-point range. In Texas Tech’s 70-60 NCAA Tournament win over 14-seed Stephen F. Austin on Thursday night, Francis scored 5 points and hit a big shot, a 3-pointer that extended Texas Tech’s lead to 64-58 with 2:33 remaining.
Francis said he has no ill-will toward Florida now and pulled for the Gators during UF’s Elite Eight run last year. He said he kept in touch with several former Gators after he left, including Kasey Hill, Devin Robinson and Dorian Finney-Smith.
Asked if he’ll exchange any pleasantries with UF players before Saturday night’s game, Francis said: “Just probably what’s up, but when we tip off the game it’s go time. After the game we’ll talk. Got a lot of respect for those guys, some of them are my brothers, I’m close with some of them. But when they go on the court they’ll have the same mindset I have. They’re not going to feel sorry for me. They’re gonna go at my head. I’m just going to focus and listen to my coaches and do what I can to help my team win.”
Florida freshman combo guard Mike Okauru took part in practice on Friday and is probable for Saturday’s game against Texas Tech.
Florida trainer Dave “Duke” Werner said Okauru underwent baseline tests for concussions on both Thursday night and Friday morning and passed both times. He will undergo one more test on Saturday morning before being cleared for game action.
Okauru suffered a head injury late in Thursday night’s 77-62 win over St. Bonaventure when he took a knee to the head while diving for a loose ball. It ended an impressive NCAA Tournament debut for the 6-foot-3 Okauru, who finished with 7 points, a rebound and a steal in 17 minutes on the floor.
“Just last year I was watching this on TV with my friends and now I’m playing in it,” Okauru said. “So it’s a great experience.”
Florida junior guard KeVaughn Allen was excused from practice Friday to attend the funeral for a close family friend and mentor in his native North Little Rock, Ark.
The 6-foot-2 Allen will return to the team in time for Saturday night’s tip against Texas Tech. Allen finished with 7 points, 4 assists and 3 steals in UF’s 77-62 win over St. Bonaventure on Thursday night, but also had 3 of UF’s 9 turnovers.
Tough as Stone
Florida redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone came up with one of his most rugged efforts of the season with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocked shots against St. Bonaventure. The 8 rebounds matched a season high, which Stone last recorded Jan. 10 against Mississippi State.
White said he thinks the 6-foot-8, 245-pound Stone is capable of those kind of performances more often.
“He’s gotten a little tougher,” White said. “He’s still really young with understanding how big and strong he is. I’m hopeful in a couple of seasons you will see a finished product where he can be more of a balance inside-out guy.”
Egor digs Texas
Florida grad transfer guard Egor Koulechov spent three years playing college basketball in Texas at Rice University in Houston. So far, Koulechov has enjoyed his two return trips to the Lone Star State this season.
After scoring 19 points on Jan. 2 in UF’s 83-67 win at Texas A&M, Koulechov had 20 points and had 6 rebounds in UF’s win Thursday night in Dallas against St. Bonaventure. Koulechov went a combined 9 of 16 from 3-point range in both games.
Koulechov said he has one friend from Rice in Dallas watching him in the tournament, and another friend from Arizona State, where he played as a freshman.
Asked if he feels more comfortable playing in Texas, Koulechov replied: “It feels a little comfortable. I forgot exactly how flat this whole state is. Just looking out the plane, but really it’s just one game.”
Florida senior point guard Chris Chiozza put on another masterful floor performance with 11 assists to 0 turnovers in Thursday night’s St. Bonaventure win. Chiozza now has 205 assists on the season, 26 shy of Nick Calathes’ school record of 231 in a season in 2008-09.