Florida basketball: 3 takeaways from UF's 67-49 loss to UCF in the NIT

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun

The season for Florida basketball ended with a dud, as a sea of turnovers and missed shots doomed the Gators in a 67-49 loss to UCF before 3,023 at the O'Connell Center.

Florida suffered its second loss of the season to an in-state directional team after falling 76-74 to Florida Atlantic on Nov. 14. Unlike the FAU matchup, which was decided by a bucket, the game against UCF was never close. Florida trailed by nine points at halftime and by as many as 24 points in the second half. As the final seconds ticked, a gathering of UCF fans in attendance chanted "U-C-F" before the final buzzer sounded.

The Gators scored a season-low 49 points, turning the ball over 18 times while shooting 32.2 percent from the field and 16.7 percent (4-24) from 3-point range.

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"We just got out-competed," Florida freshman guard Riley Kugel said. "Not much to it, we got out competed."

Florida finished head coach Todd Golden's first season 16-17, its first losing season since the Gators went 16-17 in Billy Donovan's final year in 2014-15. The Gators, though, were dealt a tough blow when All-SEC center and leading scorer Colin Castleton went down with a broken hand on Feb. 15 against Ole Miss, ending his season. Florida went 2-5 without Castleton.

"This group in our program I think has done a really good job of competing," Golden said. "I think we've been undermanned a lot in talent during the course of the year and then losing Colin, you know was a big hurdle for us ...

"This team did a lot of things they could be proud of. Not the level with what I expect with this program as we move forward but making the NIT in year one, it could be a lot worse."

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Florida was too sloppy with the ball

The Gators finished the game with 18 turnovers, 13 in the first half, as UCF scored 15 points off turnovers in the first half and 23 points off turnovers for the game.

"Our ball security was really bad, especially in the first half and I thought that was really what set us back in a big way," Golden said.

Point guard Kyle Lofton had 5 turnovers, all the first half, matching a season-high in turnovers he had on Nov. 25 against Oregon State. Center Jason Jitoboh had three early turnovers which factored into UCF erasing UF's early 9-2 lead.

"The ball screen coverage was bothering us, their hard shows," Golden said. "It had bothered us in the first half against Ole Miss also and we did a better job in the second half of that game, but that brought us on our heels."

Florida didn't show the intensity it needed to adjust to UCF's on ball pressure.

"We didn't come out like we were supposed to," Kugel said. "So did lead to lazy passing, lazy dribbling and we just weren't there today."

The Gators had no answers to stop UCF forward Taylor Hendricks and guard C.J. Kelly

Hendricks looked every bit like the NBA first-round draft pick he's projected to be, as the 6-foot-9 210-pound forward had 13 of his 17 points in the first half to help the Golden Knights jump to a 35-26 halftime lead.

"With the lineup (Florida) had out there I felt like I had a height advantage," Hendricks said. "I was trying to get a lot of buckets inside. I only shot like, two, 3s. Usually I shoot more but you know, just taking advantage of the mismatches,"

Hendricks also had 8 rebounds and 2 blocks, including one on what appeared to be a breakaway layup by Florida guard Niels Lane. Hendricks ran downcourt and caught the athletic Lane from behind to swat his shot on the way up against the backboard.

"Impressed by the poise and the pace he plays," Golden said. "Never gets sped up. And he's big, he's long, he's got great touch and great feel and he just plays within himself. I don't feel like he ever tries to do too much and then you look down and he has 17 (points) and 8 (rebounds) and has been pretty consistent for them all year.

"Really, really good player. Wish I got the Florida job a year earlier and we would have recruited him a little bit harder, get him up here."

Kelly meanwhile was effective driving to the basket, as the UMass transfer who played for former UF assistant Matt McCall went 9 of 13 from the floor and 2 of 4 from 3-point range.

"Our close outs weren't hard enough on him," Florida guard Will Richard said. "I feel like we let him get comfortable early in the game and he had a good rhythm going."

Guard Riley Kugel reaches double figures in what could be his last game with the Gators

Kugel scored 13 points, going 4 of 12 from the floor and 3 of 6 from 3-point range with 3 turnovers. He had an early four-point play to put Florida up 9-2 but like the rest of the Gators, was unable to get it going consistently.

The 6-foot-5, 207-pound Kugel, who earned SEC All-freshman honors, scored his 10th straight game in double figures, matching Bradley Beal's mark of 10 straight games in double figures during the 2011-12 season.

Beal left UF following his freshman season and was an NBA Lottery Pick, going third overall to the Washington Wizards. Kugel is not projected in that neighborhood but did not rule out the possibility of turning pro following the UCF loss. Asked if he would be a Gator next season, Kugel responded: "I have no answer to that question at this time."

Golden said he will have a conversation with Kugel at the end of the season, as he will with the rest of his returning players in exit interviews.

"We want Riley to be back," Golden said. "I think he's done a really good job for us this year but I think there's a lot he can build on as well. So we'll have good conversations, see where everything lands."