DALLAS — Florida transfer guards Egor Koulechov and Jalen Hudson insist they have moved on from their woeful performances in the SEC Tournament against Arkansas.
Koulechov and Hudson are eager to start fresh in the NCAA Tournament tonight when the sixth-seeded Gators face 11th seed St. Bonaventure. The normally high-scoring duo combined to go 4 for 20 on the floor and didn’t bring much on the defensive end as well against the Razorbacks
The 6-foot-6 Hudson missed a pair of early free throws and picked up two early fouls, sitting the final eight minutes of the first half. Koulechov, meanwhile, missed his final eight shot attempts from the floor.
“Our main focus has been on St. Bonaventure,” Hudson said. “We kind of moved on to the next thing. We made our mistake against Arkansas, but now we have a new focus.”
Hudson leads the Gators in scoring at 15.3 points per game and was coming off a stretch in which he averaged 22.7 points over three games before scoring just 6 points against Arkansas. Koulechov, meanwhile, is second on the Gators in scoring (13.6 ppg), while leading the Gators in rebounding (6.5 rpg)
“We have a new opponent,” Koulechov said. “We have to really hang our hat on defense … We know if we defend at a high level, it’s going to give us a chance every single game.”
The 6-foot-5 Koulechov is making his first NCAA Tournament trip since his freshman year, when as a freshman at Arizona State, the Sun Devils lost to Texas 87-85 on a last-second shot in 2014. Koulechov did not appear in the game.
Hudson, meanwhile, is making his first NCAA Tournament appearance.
“Being at the tournament means everything,” Hudson said. “It’s what we’ve worked for all year. It’s exciting and we’re just excited to play. All you can control is your energy and effort. I just want to make sure those are there and give my best.”
Florida coach Mike White tried another motivational ploy before Wednesday’s practice, playing the prediction of CBS College Basketball Analyst Seth Davis picking against the higher-seeded Gators vs. St. Bonaventure before practice started.
“I thought it might lead us to having a bunch of edge in practice, and we got off to a horrible start in practice,” White said. “Quiet, had to tell my managers to stop cheering our guys on because it sounds like a library in there if they’re not getting after it.”
White did say Florida ended practice on a positive note.
“The positive that we can draw from that type of mentality is this team doesn’t really get rattled, either,” White said. “This team has the ability to make plays late down the stretch with poise. Maybe our lack of emotion at times can be a positive.”
Stuck in St. Louis
Hudson said it was tough to spend two extra days in St. Louis with the SEC Tournament still going on. The Gators were eliminated by Arkansas in the SEC quarterfinals on Friday night, but spent two extra days in the city due to travel snafus and didn’t return to Gainesville until Sunday night.
“It made it a little bit worse for us,” Hudson said. “We had to sit there. We had to watch all the games there in St. Louis. I feel like it made the sting, like, a little longer. I remember exactly how that feeling feels. I don’t want to feel that way again.”
Lanier: Schmidt deserves COY consideration
Florida isn’t the only SEC program in Dallas this week. Tennessee, the third seed in the South Region, is here in the opposite bracket of the Gators and will play 14 seed Wright State on Thursday
Current Tennessee and former Florida assistant coach Rob Lanier has ties to another program playing in Dallas. Lanier was a former player and coach at St. Bonaventure, and his uncle, Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Lanier, was a standout at the school who helped lead the Bonnies to their last Final Four in 1970.
“Fortunately they’ve got better guards than when I was there ,” Lanier said. “Their guards, I knew about (Jaylen) Adams and (Matt) Mobley, I’ve been hearing about their names since their freshman year. Dynamic and really talented.
“Mark Schmidt has done just a really remarkable job. He should be a national coach of the year candidate for what he’s done. St. Bonaventure is a great place with great people and I’m proud to be an alum. But it’s a tough job, particularly in the Atlantic 10. It’s a tough job, and the job he’s doing is really, really remarkable.”
For the second straight year, Florida, Florida State and Miami have all made the NCAA Tournament. It’s taken more than two decades, but the quality of basketball is catching up to the quality of football and baseball in the state.
“One of the interesting things that has happened over the decades, once the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic started back up in the ’80s, basketball has improved dramatically in the state of Florida,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “And it starts at the grass roots. It’s elementary schools, playing a lot of basketball. We’ve always been a great football and baseball state. But now you’ll see some of the best athletes choosing to play basketball.”
Miami, a 6 seed in the South, is facing 11 seed Loyola-Chicago in Dallas on Thursday. Larranaga said he and his staff have studied ULC’s 62-59 upset win over the Gators on Dec. 6 in Gainesville.
“The most impressive thing about it was (starting point guard) Clayton Custer got hurt in the first half and didn’t even play the second half and they were able to pull out the victory,” Larranaga said.