Florida Gators basketball wants to keep up winning ways in SEC; Colin Castleton remains out with injury

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer

Florida has bounced back from a trio of defeats to begin Southeastern Conference play, and with Vanderbilt coming to town for a 1 p.m. matchup in the Exactech Arena, the Gators have an opportunity to pull even in SEC play with a victory over the Commodores. 

Though with Colin Castleton, the team’s leader in multiple statistics, sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder injury, the UF men’s basketball team (11-6, 3-2 SEC) is aware it may be a tall task without the team’s primary option under the basket. 

Florida coach Mike White said Castleton was held out of Friday’s practice session as the team’s medical staff continues to gather information about his prognosis, and it remains a possibility that the former Michigan transfer will miss significant time, if not the remainder of the season. Nevertheless, Castleton has remained involved in the team’s preparation while dealing with the disappointment of his current situation.

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“We’re waiting to get some more feedback from our people, our medical doctors,” White said. “I haven’t been told he’s going to be out until tomorrow or he’s going to be out a week, he’s going to be out two weeks — I haven’t been told any of that. Just know he's out today. I feel for him. It's been an emotional couple of days for him. Again, he was in such a good place. 

“He was a factor in practice trying to help these guys. He was a big factor in our game the other night.”

Florida Gators center Jason Jitoboh (33) yells in celebration as he dunks the ball against Mississippi State on Wednesday night in Gainesville.

As was Jason Jitoboh. 

The junior forward earned his first career start in place of Castleton, though Jitoboh was largely ineffective in the first 20 minutes of play, picking up three fouls in just five minutes of action. 

But Jitoboh came out playing with far greater intensity – and intelligence on the defensive end – in the game’s second stretch, hitting three shots from the field and knocking down a pair of clutch free throws to help hold off the Bulldogs’ rally. 

White acknowledged it was a far cry from where Jitoboh was at just several months prior. 

"Jason's had his ups and downs, as most guys do throughout their career. He's had periods of time where he wasn't as focused and as committed to individual development as he has been here these past couple months,” White said. ”He's really made a big jump with his maturity and, again, his commitment to being his best version.”

Jitoboh, sophomore Tuongthach Gatkek and junior C.J. Felder should all see minutes at the five against a Vanderbilt team that arrives in Gainesville having won both of its SEC road games thus far this season. 

The ‘Dores opened league play Jan. 4 with a 75-74 win at Arkansas behind 22 points from standout guard Scotty Pippen Jr., and Vanderbilt (10-7, 2-3 SEC) picked up its second conference win at Georgia on Jan. 15. 

The Gators may have had plenty of success against Vanderbilt under White in the past, winning the previous seven contests, but the past won’t play much of a factor outside of an experience standpoint. Especially when facing an SEC team with capable scorers and an apparent knack for winning on the road.

With a two-game win streak under their belt, the Gators can’t get complacent, nor can they afford to alter the message.

“Pretty much (working on)  just the same stuff we've been fighting this whole season: just not being too emotional when things don’t go our way, like calls, and doing what we’re supposed to do defensively,” freshman guard Kowacie Reeves, who has scored 14 points in back-to-back contests, said. “Not even worrying about offense, just trying to get stops after stops after stops, and then the offensive opportunities will take care of themselves.”

Florida’s projected starters

Anthony Duruji F 6-7   220    R-Sr    9.5 ppg  4.2 rpg

Jason Jitoboh C 6-11 305    Jr.     3.4 ppg   1.8 rpg

Brandon McKissic G 6-3   185   Gr. 6.2 ppg   3.4 rpg

Kowacie Reeves G 6-6   182    Fr. 4.7 ppg 1.3 rpg

Phlandrous Fleming Jr. G 6-5   205   Gr.  10.8 ppg 3.5 rpg

Vanderbilt’s projected starters

Myles Stute F 6-7   210   So 8.4 ppg 3.2 rpg

Quentin Millora-Brown F 6-10  235  Sr 5.4 ppg  5.9 rpg

Scotty Pippen Jr. G 6-3   185  Jr. 18.8 ppg  3.4 rpg

Jordan Wright G 6-6   215   Jr.   12.5 ppg  5.9 rpg

Shane Dezonie G 6-5  215   Fr. 3.5 ppg  2.1 rpg

Gators basketball notes

Florida may have the recent advantage in the series, but it hasn’t always been that way. With a win, the Gators also have a chance in their 143rd meeting with the Commodores to move ahead in the all-time series for the first time. … Florida forward Anthony Duruji scored 18 of his UF-career-high 22 points vs. Mississippi State in the second half, helping the Gators rally from seven points down with 7:20 to play. Duruji also added a career-high five steals against the Bulldogs, all of which came in the second half. With that line, Duruji is just the fifth Gator since 1996 to post a 22-point, five-steal outing. He joins Nick Calathes (twice), Corey Brewer (twice), Brett Nelson and Jason Williams (twice) in the select club.


Who: Vanderbilt at Florida 

Where: Exactech Arena/O'Connell Center

When: 1 p.m. 

TV: SEC Network

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM