Florida basketball: Three takeaways from the Gators' 75-54 loss to No. 5 UConn Huskies

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports
Florida Gators forward Alex Fudge (3) makes a three pointer over Connecticut Huskies guard Jordan Hawkins (24) during the first half at Billy Donovan Court at Exactech Arena in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday, December 7, 2022. [Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun]

Florida basketball coach Todd Golden was curious to see how much his program had grown facing high-level competition after dropping two of three games at the PK 85 Tournament over Thanksgiving.

But the Gators (6-4) proved they still have work to do after a 75-54 loss to No. 5 Connecticut Wednesday night before an announced 9,046 at the O'Connell Center.

Sophomore forward Alex Fudge and freshman guard Riley Kugel led Florida with 13 points apiece. The Gators trailed by 13 at halftime and cut the lead to 46-36 on a Kowacie Reeves 3-pointer. But with a chance to cut the lead to single digits, Florida point guard Kyle Lofton had a drive blocked inside, and UConn guard Jordan Hawkins answered with a 3-pointer to extend the lead back to 13 points.

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From there, UConn stretched its lead to as many as 23 late in the second half as the Huskies improved to 10-0, with all their wins by double digits. By the 7:40 mark in the second half, fans started filing for the exits, and some scattered UConn fans in attendance started a "Let's Go Huskies" chant as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

"We competed for the most part really well," Golden said. "Defensively in the first half we did a good job, kept us in the game that way. The second half we came out with some juice, we just couldn't get over the hump where we could put them in some peril."

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Florida dominated inside

The Gators didn't have answers for Connecticut starting center Adama Sanogo and backup 7-foot-2 freshman Donovan Clingan inside. Florida was outscored 40-22 in the paint and out-rebounded 39-26.

Sanogo scored a team-high 17 points on 8 of 13 shooting from the floor, while Clingan had 16 points on 8 of 9 shooting, which included several dunks and putbacks.

"That's what makes them a legitimate NCAA champion contender," Golden said. "They have two great fives. Sanogo starts the game, he only plays 20 minutes, but he's very dominant in his time, and then Clingan, he's got to be one of the best freshmen in the country."

That made it a rough night inside for Florida preseason All-SEC center Colin Castleton, who went 1 of 9 from the floor in the first half and 4 of 14 for the game. Castleton finished with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks.

"They did a good job of protecting the rim," Castleton said. "Even their backup, Donovan, he's able to just hit the boards, block shots, what I try to do. I just didn't make as many shots as I should have. I got a bunch of good looks. I got to every spot I needed to; they just weren't falling. I've got to get back to the gym, keep working on my craft."

Not enough production from the UF backcourt

Other than Kugel, Florida had a hard time getting production from its backcourt players. Trey Bonham, Will Richard, Kyle Lofton and Myreon Jones shot a combined 0 of 17 from the floor.

UConn coach Danny Hurley said part of the game plan was to deny the ball to Richard, who went 5 for 5 from the floor and 4 for 4 from 3-point range to score 14 points in Florida's 89-51 win over Stetson on Sunday. Richard had just two shot attempts in 25 minutes and one shot attempt from 3-point range.

"We just didn't want to give him literally one 3-point attempt." Hurley said. "We were never leaving him. We were chasing him over everything. I think he's actually going to be an NBA wing guard when it's all said and done in his career here."

Lofton played 21 minutes off the bench in his first action since sitting out two games last week with back spasms. In addition to failing to score, Lofton was unable to set up his teammates, finishing with one assist.

Shaky shot selection from the Gators

Florida shot 28.6 percent from the field in the first half and 30.2 percent overall. At times in the first half, Florida appeared to rush shots while facing UConn's frenetic defense.

"They cover up for each other so well," Golden said. "We got downhill a couple of times on drives and it looks like Lofton is going to have that sneak left-hand layup and here Clingan or Sanago or whoever it is and just wipes it off the glass.

"They do a great job using their quickness and length to get back in front of the ball. I think that's what really bothered us."

Golden admitted the Gators settled for too many mid-range shots and got away from their offensive gameplan in the second half.

"We kind of went a little too one-on-one where I don't want to say hero shots but we tried to get it all back on one possession," Golden said. "Just staying with it that way is something we've got to do better."