Last May, Florida forward Alex Tyus pulled his name back from the NBA draft because he said he felt like he could be part of a special team in his senior season.
While the Gators are off to a 17-5 start and are in first in the SEC East, it hasn’t been a breakout senior year for Tyus. Entering Saturday’s game against Kentucky, Tyus’ scoring (8.8 ppg) and rebounding (5.0 rpg) are both down from a season ago.
On Tuesday night, Tyus was just 1 of 6 from the floor against Vanderbilt, missing a wide open, put-back dunk with a minute remaining that could have helped Florida clinch the game in regulation. Tyus had just 2 points, failing to reach double-figures in scoring for the fifth-time in eight SEC games.
Florida coach Billy Donovan said Tyus’ offensive struggles have been the result of facing tough matchups on the defensive end. He’ll have another one against Kentucky, guarding freshman phenom forward Terrence Jones. Jones leads the Wildcats in scoring at 17.9 ppg.
“He’s had a lot of very, very difficult matchups at the power forward spot,” Donovan said. “You can go all the way back to Ole Miss, he had to play Terrance Henry, who is a terrific power forward, then you talk about him playing Tobias Harris, from Tennessee, who is leading scorer. Then you go into the South Carolina game having to deal with (Sam) Muldrow some. And then Georgia he’s dealing with Trey Thompkins.
“‘He’s had some really, really difficult matchups. And I think what happens sometimes is Alex is really trying to focus on defending, because when you are going against those kind of guys we’re trying to provide help for him you probably have a tendency to focus a little less on your offense and you are trying to focus more on trying to do a good job defensively.”
On offense, Tyus’ appears to have lost his touch on mid-range jumpers that made him a consistent, effective offensive option last season. Since scoring 18 points in a huge effort at Tennessee, Tyus is just 17-for-44 from the floor.
Teammates say they haven’t lost confidence in Tyus, who still has time to bounce back from his current shooting slump. Give Tyus credit for keeping perspective. After the Vanderbilt game, Tyus and his wife (former UF volleyball player Alli Cecchini) were at the Ronald McDonald’s House, helping prepare meals for ill children and their families.
“We’re going to continue to try to establish (Tyus) down low,” senior forward Chandler Parsons said. “He’s done a great job for us all year long. He almost came up with that huge tip dunk last Tuesday against Vanderbilt. We’re going to keep trying to establish our big guys, him and Vernon have done a great job getting us off to a good start in games. We’re going to stay confident with him, keep giving him the ball.”
— Donovan said he’s OK with doing live in-game interviews during CBS and ESPN broadcasts. “So much of it is to try to be viewer friendly,” Donovan said. “And a lot of things for us at the college level are a takeoff of the NBA. You know, like the NBA coaches are miked up. There’s more of that in the NBA. And I think there have even been strong pushes to get more into locker rooms before the game, during halftime, after the game, because I think what they are trying to do is being the viewer into a huddle.”
— It appears that Florida is staying at an off-campus hotel again the Friday night before a home game. Both Parsons and Tyus tweeted Friday night they were hanging out at the hotel with the team. In an effort to get his team more focused, Donovan had his team stay at a hotel off-campus the Friday night before its last Saturday night home game against Arkansas on Jan. 22. It was hard to argue with the results. The Gators beat Arkansas 75-42, their largest margin of victory against an SEC opponent since topping South Carolina 84-50 in 2007.
— While much of the attention will be centered around the Kenny Boynton-Brandon Knight matchup, the game also will represent a homecoming for two more Kentucky players with Florida ties. Former Florida forward Eloy Vargas, who transferred in 2009 before the start of his sophomore year, is averaging 2.1 points and 2.3 rebounds as Kentucky’s first big man off the bench. Academic and injury problems contributed to Vargas’ decision to leave UF.
— Kentucky freshman forward Stacey Poole Jr., son of former Gator guard Stacey Poole, has appeared in just 12 games for the Wildcats averaging 0.3 points and 0.7 rebounds. After playing well against Notre Dame, Poole got in Kentucky coach John Calipari’s doghouse by firing three quick shots in his first few minutes on the floor against Indiana.
— Florida is 4-4 in games decided by five points or less and 3-1 in overtime. Kentucky, on the other hand, is 0-3 in games decided by five points or less. But Donovan said he doesn’t think experience plays a role in pulling out tight games, even though the Gators are more experienced than the Wildcats this season. “Last year’s Kentucky team with all the young guys did pull out close games,” Donovan said. There was a thought that when I had (Joakim) Noah, (Corey) Brewer and (Al) Horford and they were all sophomores, there was no NCAA Tournament experience and we weren’t going in with experience and you had to have an experienced team to go deep in the tournament and they proved that wrong.
“Just because we’ve won close games does not ensure the fact that we’re going win all of them going forward. Anything that’s happened in the past has no bearing on the next time you’re in that situation, other than the fact that there’s a level of familiarity but you still have to make the plays that are necessary.”