Gators seeking more toughness, effort on the boards

Georgia forward Yante Maten (1) battles Florida center Gorjok Gak (12) and guard Jalen Hudson (3) in the second half Tuesday in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 72-60. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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.”

Up next

Who: Alabama vs. No. 23 Florida

When: 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: O’Connell Center


Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850



  1. I think teams with scrappy bigs, like Carolina’s, Silva, and Georgia’s, Maten, will always get in this year’s team’s heads, and own them!
    Match-ups for this team are everything. As shooting 3’s (even when made) can only take this team so far. I do hope the Gator big men prove me wrong… and soon too!

    • gatorgi, I wouldn’t characterize Silva and Maten as scrappy. They’re very skilled, big and physical. Hayes is really a back-up center and Stone, despite his size, isn’t physical enough to be effective at the four spot. I don’t think it’s in their heads as much as it is guys like Silva and Maten are tougher, stronger, and more skilled. Hayes and Stone are more finesse than physical. Hayes simply has no post game. He can’t catch the ball cleanly in traffic and has bad footwork. His entire offensive game is based on put-backs and taking dishes from driving teammates. Defensively, Stone just isn’t consistently tough enough, and doesn’t get the rebounds he should.

      You’re exactly right about match-ups. Teams with tough, skilled big men will give the Gators fits. When the Gators were going well, they were getting double figures from Stone and 7-8 from Hayes, so the two were combining for 18-20 points and 10-12 rebounds. Against SC, they combined for 6 points and 9 boards, and 10 points and 8 boards against UGA. That just won’t cut if from your starters. They played a combined 47 minutes against UGA, while Gak played only 13 minutes and had 6 rebounds. They can be effective, but their toughness and aggression has to improve.

      The key to the UGA loss was giving up offensive rebounds and the second chance points that went with them. There was a FT discrepancy, but most of that was due to UF having to foul down the stretch. If Hayes and Stone get 8 more points and 4 more rebounds, it’s a different game.

      Some have criticized Coach White, but it’s not his fault that Egbunu, Stokes, and Johnson are injured and Gak’s knees are so bad he can hardly practice. Who knows what he would’ve gotten from Stokes and Johnson, but Egbunu certainly would’ve provided some much needed strength and toughness.

      • Couldn’t agree more. Also, the number of first half 50-50 balls that just seemed to bounce UGAs way, was absolutely ridiculous. Without those 6-8 “offensive rebounds” in the first 10 minutes, this is a different game.

        And Hayes is the definition of an Undersized, athletic, scrappy post defender. Hes great rotating and helping off his man to get blocks and contest shots, but at his height and weight, bigger guys can always back him down 1 on 1 in the post.

        As for Stone, he is clearly more suited to play the 3, both offensively and defensively.

      • I don’t see Egbunu being any help to us this year, every time he gets on the floor (non contact)the knee swells up, I can’t see him playing full go this year. as for the rest of the big men, what you see it’s what you get. It seems that we forgot to recruit any. The only thing I see as far as recruiting a big man wont be until 2019/20, two kids just finishing HS. I guess all we can do for now is hang on and hope the big men we have now man-up. One thing for sure we need to have an inside presence both offensively and defensively if we are to make it to March.

  2. Allot of excuses about Egbunu, Stokes and Johnson being out. It was widely known at the end of last season that Egbunu and Stokes would be out a good portion of the season due to their severe injuries. The Gators had time to recruit another player either out of high school or grad transfer, but it did not happen. Hayes has regressed since last year for the most part and Gak even if healthy does not look like he is a power 5 conference player. Gak might have trouble playing at a school like UNF or Stetson let alone the SEC.
    Johnson exhibited good potential when he did play earlier in the year, but he was hardly utilized as he played much less than the other freshmen Ballard and Okarau .

  3. We have great student athletes. Players we all can be proud of on and off the court. As encouragement, they haven’t found their highest gear on defense to date. They may not recognize this but they have it in them to increase their speed and employ a smothering crazy defense. Move the ball around the court with much greater speed too! Back to my main points! I would force more bench players to get in there and play to the Gator level. They can do it. They need confidence and someone to hold their feet to the fire. We need them so we have more depth in key areas. This will be the catalyst for starters to play lights out on defense. Additionally, sometimes, team stragegy has to include playing minutes where the objective is to change an opponent’s perspective, even if means sacrifing fouls. You know what I mean 😢? Call it defcon 4; don’t you come in here! Another reason bench players have to become more accountable. It’s a full grown man’s game! Go Gators!

  4. The Gators just don’t have the horses this year to really compete. KH, KS and GG are not and cannot get it done offensively, defensively or on the glass. They are just not strong enough or tough enough or do not want it bad enough. In addition, the team does not seen to be able to defend the 3 point line. Too many open shooters all year long game after game. You also have KA who was supposed to be a top scorer having a very poor shooting year. No defense coupled with a lack of scoring means a lot of losses. The rest of the team is very good and if everyone were healthy they would be competing at a very high level. Now, because of who is missing they are just too inconsistent. They may make the dance and win one or two games but I do not see them making a deep run. Its just reality.

  5. Hayes and the other post players have the potential to be a lot better But it seems as if coach White focus is too much on 3 pointers. Hayes shows good potential inside with the studder step, keep going to him and them(post players)in practice and games

  6. Colorado State’s Larry Eustachy will be fired, perhaps in the next couple days. What about bringing this drill sergeant madman to Gainesville to replace Miss White? Bet that the Gators’ nonchalant, lackadaisical crap would end during the first hour of practice. Also, as predicted, read on SportsNation that top recruit, Nembhard, is getting a little antsy about playing for White and might open up his recruitment. GIVE WHITE HIS WALKING PAPERS.

    • Nembhard signed his LOI in November. Save for a coaching change or some other special circumstance, he can’t re-open his recruitment. You may want to consider laying off White a little, too. Not many coaches take a new team to an Elite Eight in his second season. Yes, this season’s team has been inconsistent but you can’t predict injuries. It’s an imperfect roster. He’s doing the best he can with what he has.

      • I agree. At times I have been very critical of the players, but not the coach. I may not have picked White, but I think he has done a good job overall. Now the players are a different story. It is maddening to me how great they play at times and how poor they play at times. Their effort, defensive intensity, scoring, shooting, rebounding, decision making, failure to guard the 3 point line have been wilding inconsistent this year.

  7. Alabama will come in Saturday (about a 8-pt underdog) and beat Florida. It will be the SEVENTH game this season Miss White will have lost as a FAVORITE — and there are still games to play! And, to think, we thought McElwain was the only damnable albatross!

  8. Alright, all you Miss Mike White lovers, file this prediction: Unless Florida wins the SEC tourney and the automatic bid, they WILL NOT be in the NCAA tournament. If I’m right and White keeps his job, it’s nothing but pitiful! They will end the regular season with at least 11 losses. Where’s Norm Sloan when we need him?!

  9. Come on Gator fans, start posting some opinions. Of the nine remaining regular season games, Florida will be favored in every one except at Tennessee. As a favorite, how many more losses will coach Michelle White rack up? Worth repeating that White will be favored in 8 of 9!!

  10. Hayes and Stone should play more Hi=Low together. The team should run more offense through them. Stone spends too much time on the outside. He needs to play inside more closer to the basket. Put Stone at the high post, Hayes in the low post. Play the ball into one and have the other cut to the basket. Turn and shoot or drive and dish. If the pass to the cutter is not there. kick it out to the 3 point line. We will get better 3 point looks and more inside scoring and rebounding. Now all we do is dribble or pass around the perimeter with an occasional dribble drive. Very little interior passing. Very few points in the paint.