It was early in the game of a game that started early.
Chris Chiozza saw an opening.
It would not close.
So the Florida senior decided to make the opening game of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge his own, dominating in the way not too many 6-foot guards can.
Don’t get me wrong, this was a team win. Four dudes in double figures and another a point away. The 3-point defense that had been non-existent Wednesday night showing up to the tune of a 3-for-15 for Baylor.
There were the 10 steals, the 10-0 run in the second half by Jalen Hudson and another sniff at a double-double by Egor Koulechov.
But this was a Cheez-Whiz game.
“I can’t imagine he’s had a better game than that,” Florida coach Mike White said of his point guard.
Baylor came into the game with a plan and that plan was to not let Chiozza beat them with his patented drive-and-pass game. Limit his assists and you limit the Florida offense.
“Obviously,” said Hudson, “that wasn’t the smartest thing to do.”
The strategy was not that bad on the surface, but it reeked in hindsight.
Baylor has a reputation for tough defense, especially its zone that White said he refers to as “the Baylor Zone” when he sees other teams try it.
And there was this — Florida was 12-for-53 in its last two games from 3.
Shoot it. We dare you.
Even you, Mr. Clutch.
“We tried to take away his passing,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said, “and he got us with his scoring. Great players can pick and choose. Great players can do more than one thing and hurt you in more than one way.
“When he’s scoring on top of his facilitating then he just goes to another level.”
Chiozza finished with 20 points, not a gaudy number, but he didn’t take a shot in the final 11 minutes. By then his damage had been done, especially in the first half when he scored 13 straight UF points.
“I could tell early in the game when I drove the ball and four guys ran away from me,” Chiozza said. “I said, ‘OK, it’s going to be a game where I get some shots.
“I hit one and then I hit another and I figured I’d try some more.”
Chiozza finished 7-for-10, 4-of-7 from three. He came in averaging a little more than three long-range shots per game.
While the 3-point shooting might have been a bit of a surprise, the rest of his game was typical Chiozza.
Six assists to one turnover.
Six rebounds. Two steals.
And after the demolition of the Bears was complete came praise for his defense. Chiozza chased Baylor’s leading scorer Manu Lecomte for much of the game and the sharpshooter needed a team-high 29 minutes to get 10 measly points.
The head of the snake bit with much prejudice. It’s no coincidence that the Gator defense might have played its best game of the season with Chiozza setting the example.
This, coming off a miserable team defensive performance in a gut-punch of a loss to South Carolina on Wednesday night.
“I’m not surprised by anything he does anymore,” said Koulechov.
Chiozza has brought it every game, but this was another example of what Florida can be when it pays attention to defense. You don’t get beaten very often when you give up 60 in college basketball.
Dominated inside four days ago, Kevarrius Hayes blocked five shots. Dissected in that game against South Carolina, the Gators forced 15 turnovers.
There’s a pattern here, folks, and a lot of basketball left to play. We’ll sit back and see if the focus can be consistent.
But we know about one thing.
You can bring up the last four games in the assist-to-turnover ratio for his best player (it’s a ridiculous 31-to-4).
Or his defense.
Or his three straight games of double-figures scoring.
Just don’t bring it up to White that Chiozza might be the SEC Player of the Year.
“Yante Maten (of Georgia), SEC Player of the Year. It’s done,” he said. “We don’t want Chris reading that.”
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.