Florida junior guard Jalen Hudson still checks his iPad daily after practice.
There’s always another tendency to learn from an opposing player, another defensive rotation to master.
“It just helps me to notice my mistakes throughout practice and the games and to not make the same mistakes twice,” Hudson said. “And ultimately just to grasp more knowledge on the game.”
Hudson earned SEC co-player of the week honors Monday after averaging 19 points and seven rebounds in wins over Arkansas and Kentucky. In addition to providing scoring punch off the bench, the 6-foot-6, 192-pound Hudson has grown defensively as well, which has allowed him to stay on the court for longer stretches.
The Gators will look for Hudson to continue his solid play on both ends of the floor tonight when they host South Carolina.
Hudson scored a team-high 17 points in UF’s 66-64 win over Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Saturday night, including a pair of clutch free throws with 31 seconds remaining. But it was a defensive play by Hudson, a block on a drive by Kentucky freshman forward P.J. Washington with two seconds remaining, that helped the Gators seal the win.
“It felt really good,” Hudson said. “I was just trying to make a great play for the team, you know what I mean? Just trying to stay solid, two hands in the air while he was driving.”
Florida coach Mike White said Hudson has come “a long way” defensively since October and pointed out another game against Gonzaga in which Hudson deflected a shot late to help the Gators pull off an overtime win.
“That’s two games now he’s come up big late for us defensively to complement how great he’s been for us offensively,” White said.
Hudson ranks fourth in the SEC in scoring, averaging a team-high 16.5 points per game for the Gators. The Virginia Tech transfer has been UF’s most consistent scorer, reaching double figures in 17 of 19 games this season while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent (48-115) from 3-point range.
In his two seasons at Virginia Tech, Hudson showed flashes of big-time scoring ability, including scoring 32 points in an ACC Tournament win over Wake Forest as a freshman. Earlier this season, Hudson scored a career-high 35 points in UF’s double-overtime win over Gonzaga and has carried it over into SEC play.
“Opportunity is a big part of it,” Hudson said. “I’ve been shooting well and playing with a lot of confidence. Definitely Coach White has instilled a lot of confidence in me.”
Hudson has been productive while coming off the bench, having not been a starter in six of UF’s seven games. He’s essentially played starting minutes (25.5 per game) in a sixth man role similar to what grad transfer Canyon Barry provided for the Gators last season.
“I just try to play my best whenever I do get in the game,” Hudson said. “Starting or not, I’m just going to try to play my best and bring my best effort. It’s been working so far so I’m just going to continue doing that.”
White said Hudson hasn’t made not starting an issue, but would consider moving him back in as a starter if he felt it was best for the team.
“He’s finishing a lot of games,” White said. “And if he continues to defend and rebound at a higher level, and if he continues to progress in those areas he’s going to become a guy that’s harder and harder to take off the floor, whether he starts or not.”
Elite Eight rematch
Florida and South Carolina are squaring off for the first time since the Elite Eight last March, when the Gamecocks rallied in the second half to beat the Gators 77-70 at Madison Square Garden in New York City to earn their first trip to the Final Four in school history.
White, who said last October at SEC media days that he no longer has tape of the loss, doesn’t view last year’s result as adding any fuel to Wednesday night’s game.
“Both teams are different,” White said. “Our style probably contrasts with our style from last year more than theirs. (South Carolina coach) Frank (Martin) may disagree. They’re similar in a lot of ways. They obviously lost some really good players, but they’ve done a good job of developing their frontcourt guys.”
Overall, South Carolina won two of three against the Gators last season, though UF won 81-66 in Gainesville behind 26 points from KeVaughn Allen. South Carolina lost three starters, including SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell, from last year’s squad. Allen is back for the Gators, who also lost three starters from last season, point guard Kasey Hill and forwards Devin Robinson and Justin Leon.
Gak back, Egbunu in holding pattern
Florida sophomore center Gorjok Gak returned to practice Monday and will be available for South Carolina after sitting out UF’s last two games in concussion protocol. Senior center John Egbunu is still taking part in non-contact work in practices, but that work had to be decreased Monday after he complained of soreness in his non-surgically repaired knee.
“Probably overcompensating, so who knows how long this process will be of acclimation for him,” White said.
Who: South Carolina Gamecocks (12-7, 3-4 SEC) vs. No. 20 Florida Gators (14-5, 6-1)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G KeVaughn Allen 6-2 Jr., 11.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg
G Chris Chiozza 6-0 Sr., 12.3 ppg, 6.1 apg
G Egor Koulechov 6-5 GSr., 14.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg
F Keith Stone 6-8 RSo., 8.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg
C Kevarrius Hayes 6-9 Jr., 5.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg
SOUTH CAROLINA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Evan Hinson 6-4;So.;3.0 ppg;1.4 rpg
G Wesley Myers 6-1;GSr.;7.4 ppg;2.5 rpg
F Justin Minaya 6-5;Fr.;8.4 ppg;4.4 rpg
F Maik Kotsar 6-10;So.;8.5 ppg;4.7 rpg
F Chris Silva 6-9;Jr.;14.5 ppg;7.8 rpg
Notes: Florida is 44-25 all-time against South Carolina and 1-3 against the Gamecocks under Mike White . … The Gators have won eight of their last nine games and returned to the Top 25 this week after a five-week absence. … Florida leads the SEC in turnover margin (plus-4.8) and 3-pointers made per game (9.6), while ranking second in the league in 3-point field goal percentage (38.4). … Florida graduate guard Egor Koulechov leads the SEC in free throw percentage at 94.3 percent. … Florida junior guard Jalen Hudson earned SEC player of the week honors for the second time this season, the first UF player to do so since Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II did so during UF’s 2013-14 season. … The Gators lead the SEC with a 6-1 record and are 20-5 in their last 25 regular-season league games. … South Carolina junior forward Chris Silva is tied for 13th in the league in scoring (14.5 ppg) while ranking third in rebounding (7.8). … The Gamecocks rank fifth in the SEC in rebounding margin at plus-5.7. … South Carolina guard Frank Booker, a Florida Atlantic transfer, is averaging 11.3 points off the bench while shooting a team-best 39.8 percent from 3-point range. … South Carolina freshman swingman Justin Minaya is the son of former New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya.
— Kevin Brockway