ATHENS, Ga. — Florida has dealt with size mismatches throughout the first half of Southeastern Conference play.
At times, the Gators have managed to overcome them with toughness and effort. But in a 72-60 loss to Georgia on Tuesday night, Florida reverted to softness.
Georgia outrebounded Florida 44-35 while turning 15 offensive rebounds into 16 second-chance points. The Bulldogs managed to hang around against Florida early by scoring 11 second-chance points in the first half before taking control of the game in the second half.
With senior center John Egbunu, UF’s leading rebounder from last season, still uncertain to return while rehabbing a torn ACL, the Gators are going to need to continue to make due with what they have. Senior guard Egor Koulechov grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, ending a string of seven straight games with eight or more rebounds. Sophomore center Gorjok Gak also was active on the glass with six rebounds in 13 minutes off the bench.
The 6-foot-5 Koulechov has battled, sometimes giving up three to four inches and 20 pounds while trying to box out opposing power forwards when the Gators play four-guard lineups.
“You can’t use that as an excuse,” Koulechov said. “Every team has got its issues. We may be undersized but we’ve got a lot of talent here. We’ve just got to stick to what we do, work hard, draw a line in the sand, you know and say enough is enough, and you know kind of man up now.”
Koulechov said the Gators didn’t do a good enough job getting to 50-50 balls in the first half.
“We’ve still got to be a tougher,” Koulechov said. “A lot of loose balls today that we should have gotten, but didn’t get. And it’s just an awareness thing, who wants it more? They wanted it more and they won the game.”
Without Egbunu, the Gators have used a four-player post rotation that includes 6-9, 225 pound senior center Kevarrius Hayes, 6-8, 240 pound redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone, 6-9, 240 pound redshirt freshman forward Dontay Bassett and Gak, who at 6-11 and 245 pounds is limited in the number of minutes he can provide off the bench due to knee problems.
“It’s tough,” Florida senior point guard Chris Chiozza said. “We’re normally undersized every game but, I mean, we’ve been able to do it so far. We’ve got to figure out how to do it every game and do it the full 40 minutes, every game.”
For the season, Florida ranks 13th in the SEC in rebounding margin at minus-1.0. In their first nine SEC games, the Gators have only outrebounded two opponents, Mississippi State (38-31) and Arkansas (40-36).
“What do we do, continue to stress it,” Florida coach Mike White. “We can’t beat each other up in practice. We can’t do that. I know that. We’re already beat up.”
White indicated fatigue may have played a factor in UF’s rebounding woes as well and will continue to examine whether he’s playing players for too many consecutive minutes. Chiozza played 35 minutes against Georgia, while Koulechov played 32 minutes.
“With Chris and Egor you have guys playing a lot of minutes,” White said. “We’re obviously depleted in the front line. It’s not like we didn’t do a bunch of physicality drills, and I’m not sure that’s in our best interest.
“We’ve got to be as fresh as we can be, watch a lot on film, continue to talk, continue to stress what we’re stressing and maybe we need a guy or two to really step up in terms of throwing their bodies around and getting more rebounds.”
Who: Alabama vs. No. 23 Florida
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: O’Connell Center
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850