Florida basketball: 3 takeaways from Castleton-less Gators' 84-65 loss at Arkansas

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Feb 18, 2023; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Florida Gators forward Alex Fudge (3) drives against Arkansas Razorbacks forward Jalen Graham (11) in the first half at Bud Walton Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Florida basketball began its late-season stretch without leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker Colin Castleton with a numbing 84-65 loss at Arkansas on Saturday that served as another blow to its fading NCAA Tournament hopes.

The Gators (14-13, 7-7 SEC) dropped to 2-10 in Quad 1 games. Arkansas (18-9, 7-7 SEC) led 37-31 at halftime, then put the game away with a 17-2 run in the second half, capped by a Jalen Graham dunk with 14:12 remaining.

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Florida coach Todd Golden set a goal of making the NCAA Tournament in his first season. At this point, the Gators would need to win their final four regular-season games to have a chance, then make a run in the SEC Tournament.

Here are three takeaways from Florida's loss:

Interior defense struggles without Castleton

The Gators struggled defensively most of the afternoon without the 6-foot-11 Castleton, who is done for the season with a broken hand.

The trio of Jason Jitoboh, Alex Fudge and freshman Aleks Szymczyk were unable to prevent the Razorbacks from scoring inside at will. Arkansas outscored Florida 52-36 in the paint. The Gators had no answers defending the 6-9 Graham, who scored a season-high 26 points on 12 of 15 shooting.

Florida blocked two shots as Arkansas shot 57.6 percent from the field and 65.3 percent (32 of 49) on two-point shots.

Shooting woes continue on the road

Florida was coming off one of its best 3-point shooting games of the season, going 10 of 17 on treys (58.8 percent) against Ole Miss last Wednesday. But the Gators couldn't carry over that momentum Saturday at Arkansas.

The Gators made 1 of their first 14 3-point attempts and shot 19 percent (4 of 21) from 3-point range in the game. Florida has shot under 32 percent from 3-point range in each of its last four road games.

Szymczyk made two of Florida's four 3-pointers and had a season-high 8 points and 6 rebounds.

Riley Kugel continues late-season surge

Feb 18, 2023; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Florida Gators guard Riley Kugel (24) drives against Arkansas Razorbacks guard Jordan Walsh (13) during the first half at Bud Walton Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Freshman guard Riley Kugel was one of the few bright spots for Florida, scoring a team-high 17 points on 5 of 12 shooting from the floor. Kugel was able to get to the foul line and convert, making 6 of his 7 free-throw attempts.

Kugel has scored in double figures in four straight games, averaging 15.5 points during that span.