Florida broke out of a mild shooting slump in a big way Saturday in its 81-60 win over Baylor in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.
But afterward, Florida coach Mike White was as encouraged with the defensive effort.
“We didn’t put 40 (minutes) together, but it’s probably as good a defensive performance as we’ve played, against a very talented offensive team that executes really well,” White said.
Before 10,623 fans at the O’Connell Center, the No. 20 Gators (15-6, 6-2 SEC) brought energy on defense early and maintained it throughout the game, holding Baylor to 40-percent shooting from the floor and 20-percent shooting (3-15) from 3-point range. Junior center Kevarrius Hayes had five of UF’s six blocked shots, while junior guard Jalen Hudson had three of UFs’ 10 steals. The Gators turned defense into offense as well, scoring 20 points off 15 Baylor turnovers.
Senior point guard Chris Chiozza carried the Gators in another dynamic performance, finishing with a team-high 20 points, six rebounds and six assists to just one turnover. Chiozza also helped get Baylor’s best player, senior point guard Manu Lecomte in foul trouble. Lecomte picked up three fouls in the first half and had 10 points and two assists in 29 minutes on the floor.
Lecomte entered the game leading Baylor in scoring (16.6 ppg) and 3-point field goal percentage (39.2 percent)
“Anytime you are playing a good player, you come out there with a different urgency,” Chiozza said. “Especially at this stage, you don’t want to get embarrassed. I just came out and I try to play hard every game, but when you face another good lead guard, you gotta come out there with something extra.’
Hudson scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half for the Gators, while Egor Koulechov scored 16 points. The Gators made 14 3-pointers, their most since sinking 17 on Jan. 2 at Texas A&M, and shot 56 percent (14-25) from beyond the arc.
Florida may have been due for a big shooting day. The Gators were 12 for their last 53 from 3-point range in their prior two games against South Carolina and Kentucky.
“We have good outside shooters,” Chiozza said. “Shots are not going to fall every game, but we’re never going to stop shooting.”
Koulechov was the hot hand early, making his first three 3-point attempts to help the Gators jump to a 14-5 lead.
“When we shoot the ball like that, it’s hard to beat us with the crowd going at home,” Koulechov said. “We defended a lot better today than we did the other day against South Carolina.”
After Baylor cut Florida’s lead to 24-15 with 9:40 left in the first half, Chiozza went on his own flurry, scoring 13 straight points during a 13-5 run. A 3-pointer by Chiozza with 4:52 left in the first half put the Gators up 37-22.
Lecomte picked up his second foul with 12:49 remaining, but with the Gators up by double digits early, Baylor coach Scott Drew took a chance and brought the 5-foot-11 guard back into the game with 7:18 left. The Gators then attacked inside and with 3:48 left drew Lecomte’s third foul by posting up Koulechov against him.
“That was big,” White said. “The more he sat on the bench, the better off we were going to be.”
Said Drew: “I thought he did a great job playing with foul trouble. I told the three officials unless you want to play point guard you better keep him in.”
Baylor cut Florida’s lead to 40-31 with 1:22 left in the first half on an inside layup by guard Mark Vital, but Florida junior guard KeVaughn Allen hit a big shot to close the half, a fall-away 3-pointer to put Florida up 43-31 at halftime. It capped a half in which the Gators shot 58.3 percent from the floor and 75 percent (9-12) from 3-point range.
In the second half, Baylor cut Florida’s lead to 58-48 on an inside jumper by Terry Maston with 10:40 left. But then, Hudson went on his own scoring binge, scoring 10 straight points during a 10-2 run to put Florida up 68-50.
From there, Florida extended its lead by as many as 24 points. Maston led Baylor (12-9) with 15 points, with Vital adding 11 points and Lecomte scoring 10 points. The Bears suffered their third straight loss.
“We knew they could shoot the 3,” Drew said. “We tried to take away the 3 and didn’t do a good enough job. Again players make plays. They’ve got some guards that made plays and you are not going to beat anybody when they shoot 14 for 25 very often. So really credit them for taking advantage of that. We tried to get the ball inside more and weren’t as effective as we wanted to be.”
|No. 20 FLORIDA 81, BAYLOR 60|
Vital 5-11 1-2 11, Lual-Acuil 4-7 1-1 9, Clark 3-3 1-1 7, Lecomte 4-8 0-0 10, McClure 0-5 1-2 1, Maston 5-10 4-4 14, Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Omot 1-7 0-0 2, Lindsey 0-2 0-0 0, Jolly 2-7 1-2 6. Totals 24-60 9-12 60.
Stone 3-6 2-2 9, Hayes 2-3 1-1 5, Koulechov 5-6 3-5 16, Chiozza 7-10 2-3 20, K.Allen 3-8 2-2 10, Bassett 0-0 1-2 1, Gak 1-1 0-0 2, Hudson 6-13 1-5 17, Okauru 0-2 0-0 0, Krause 0-0 0-0 0, Ballard 0-2 1-2 1, Fava 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-52 13-22 81.
Halftime_Florida 43-31. 3-Point Goals_Baylor 3-15 (Lecomte 2-5, Jolly 1-2, Lual-Acuil 0-1, Omot 0-3, McClure 0-4), Florida 14-25 (Hudson 4-6, Chiozza 4-7, Koulechov 3-3, K.Allen 2-4, Stone 1-3, Okauru 0-1, Ballard 0-1). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Baylor 35 (Jolly 7), Florida 27 (Koulechov 8). Assists_Baylor 13 (Omot, Lindsey 3), Florida 12 (Chiozza 6). Total Fouls_Baylor 19, Florida 15.
Who: No. 20 Florida vs. Georgia
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Ga.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850