Florida basketball: 3 questions heading into Gators' game at Vanderbilt

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Florida will have to contend with Vanderbilt center Liam Robbins without Colin Castleton, shown here battling each other last March.

Florida has lost two in a row since losing leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker Colin Castleton for the season last week with a broken hand.

The Gators (14-14, 7-8 SEC) will try to stay above .500 and pick up their first win of the season without Castleton when they play Saturday at Vanderbilt (6 p.m., ESPN2).

"Colin was such a big part of the back side of our defense," Florida coach Todd Golden said. "I think we’re getting there. We’re growing on a day-to-day basis and just trying to find ways to grow incrementally better."

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The Commodores (15-13, 8-7 SEC) had a five-game win streak snapped when they lost 84-77 at LSU on Wednesday.

Florida will look to avenge an 88-80 loss to Vanderbilt at home earlier this month.

Here are three questions for the Gators entering the matchup:

What adjustments will the Gators make vs. Vanderbilt center Liam Robbins?

The 7-foot Robbins torched Florida in the first meeting, finishing with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Robbins went 10 of 18 from the floor, 3 of 4 from 3-point range and 9 of 11 from the free-throw line.

"We can't let him live at the foul line," Golden said. "I think he shot 24 free throws against Auburn or something like that. I think he had 12 or 14 or something like that in our game.

"The 3s hurt you and they feel bad over the course of the game but really the free throws is kind of like the slow bleed where if you're getting to the line over and over again over the course of the game, that's going to end up being a big deal for us."

Without Castleton, centers Jason Jitoboh and Aleks Szymczyk will be tasked with guarding Robbins in the post.

"Jason has done a good job these last three games defending without fouling for the most part," Golden said. "I think he's grown that way. Longer minutes will probably allow him to be more comfortable and we're going to have to tweak a couple things with the matchup."

Can freshman guard Riley Kugel remain Florida's go-to scorer?

Kugel is coming off a career-high 24 points against Kentucky and has scored in double figures in five straight games, averaging 17.2 points during the stretch.

“I’m starting to feel real comfortable with the game,” Kugel said. “I feel like me getting to my spots is coming a little easier than it was before and I just hope to make the right reads every time I get the ball.

“When I first got here, everything was so fast and so quick, I had to adjust to the game.”

The 6-5 Kugel went 4 of 6 from 3-point range against Kentucky and 6 of 7 from the foul line.

“It’s a lot to put on a freshman, but he’s done a great job stepping up, being consistent,” Golden said. “His growth from the beginning of the season to where he is now is what we hope to see from most of our freshmen when they come into our program.”

Can Florida do a better job guarding the 3-point line?

Vanderbilt went 12-for-23 from 3-point range in the first meeting against the Gators, a big factor in the outcome of of the game. In addition to Robbins going 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, guard Trey Thomas went 4 of 5 from 3-point range.

Florida is going to need to rotate better defensively and be mindful of where Vanderbilt's shooters are at all times.