Florida basketball: 3 questions for UF heading into Saturday's home finale against LSU

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Feb 1, 2023; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Florida Gators forward Colin Castleton (12) celebrates after making a basket against the Tennessee Volunteers during the second half at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Florida will conclude its 2022-23 men's basketball regular season with what should be an emotional Senior Night when it hosts LSU on Saturday at the O'Connell Center (6 p.m., SEC Network).

Three seniors will be honored pregame - point guard Kyle Lofton, center Jason Jitoboh and preseason All-SEC center Colin Castleton, whose season ended Feb. 15 when he broke his hand against Ole Miss.

 “I’ll just try to enjoy it," Castleton said. "It’s been two-plus weeks since my injury. I understand that I had to transition to being an even better teammate than I had been all year by coaching the guys and telling them things I see on the court. It’s definitely going to be … I don’t want to say sad, but definitely a lot of emotions.”

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The Gators (15-15, 8-9 SEC) could close the regular season with an overall winning record and a .500 record in the SEC if they can beat the Tigers for the second time this season. Florida won at LSU, 67-56, on Jan. 10. Florida picked up its first win of the season without Castleton on Tuesday, beating Georgia 77-67 in Athens, Ga.

"To go .500 in this league — I think it’s the second-best league in America — would be a great accomplishment, especially with the way Colin’s injury took place," Florida coach Todd Golden said. "So, if we’re able to get back on the horse (last) Tuesday and be able to win (Saturday) that would be a great end to the regular season considering all the variables we’ve dealt with. So that’s a goal of ours, being able to go into the conference tournament."

Here are three questions for the Gators heading into Saturday's matchup with LSU:

Will this be freshman guard Riley Kugel's last game at the O'Connell Center?

Kugel has scored in double figures in seven straight games, averaging 17.9 points per game during the stretch. He's emerged as Florida's go-to scorer since Castleton's injury.

There have been rumblings, though, that the 6-foot-5, 207-pound Kugel has gotten feelers from the NBA developmental G League wondering whether he wants to start his professional career. Another possibility is that Kugel could enter the transfer portal at the end of the season to gauge his value in the NIL marketplace.

"Riley’s a loyal guy," Golden said. "He's not necessarily one I worry about that way in terms of changing his allegiances. I think, again, I'll say I think he's grateful for the opportunity we presented him, and we're grateful for the way he grabbed it, and I think it's a really good relationship that way.”

Can guard Will Richard build off his career-high scoring performance?

Richard scored a career-high 24 points in Florida's 77-67 win at Georgia, going 8 of 11 from the floor and 5 of 8 from 3-point range. It was his third double-digit scoring game over his last seven.

Following the game, Richard said he spent time studying film with assistant coaches Carlin Hartman and Kevin Hovde, working on finding open spots on the floor.

"There have been games where he hasn't had as many attempts as we would like and we'll continue to work on that as he continues to build his career here," Golden said. "But that game on Tuesday I think showed what he's capable of — being able to find those open spots and hunting down shots, working what we call our penetration rules, being in the right place at the right time."

How will Florida guard talented LSU center K.J. Williams without Castleton?

The 6-10, 250-pound Williams scored 23 points in the first meeting against Florida but was 8 of 20 from the floor as Castleton and others were able to alter his shots around the rim. He's capable of scoring at all three levels, as he's shooting 42.5 percent (54-of-127) from 3-point range on the season.

"We were switching one through five in that game and I think that was something that helped us," Golden said. "I think we're going to have to be mindful of how we can take away his 3-point attempts. He's a really good player from everywhere, can operate on the block, mid-post and 3 but the 3 is where he really separates."

It will be up to the trio of Jitoboh, sophomore forward Alex Fudge and freshman center Aleks Szymczyk to try to contain Williams closer to the basket. Against Georgia, Florida even sprinkled in some zone defense, which was effective. That could be an option again if Williams is having his way inside.

"We're going to roll with whatever's effective down the stretch," Golden said. "We're obviously a little bit different so we can't rely upon running teams off the 3 and funneling to our bigs because, without Colin, we don't have that same rim protection."