After starting the season as Final Four favorites and then, almost in a flash, tripping up completely through the month of December, the 8-4 Gators were able to put together a solid victory in their SEC opener versus Vanderbilt by a score of 81-74.
After taking some early season lumps, Florida fans had their fingers crossed through the holidays as they knew an early SEC matchup was coming against the Commodores. whose team that beat them three times last season and in all five meetings games coached by Mike White. But with fresh legs and determined play, the Gators had things rolling on Saturday afternoon.
Chris Chiozza helped get the team rolling and did well creating space and adapting with the pick and roll, scoring 17 points and leading the team with 3 points. KeVaughn Allen helped in creating a dominant backcourt by finishing with 16 points, 10 coming in a hot first half, improving his game after only scoring once in 2 of the last 4 games.
But the real man of the night was Egor Koulechov, who many heralded as a potential team MVP early on only to go completely ice cold the past month and a half, dropped in a team leading 22 points. Most importantly Egor changed his game play, taking a lot less 3-pointers, which has plagued him after only hitting 5 of 29 in the last 5 contests, and using his strength to get to the hold and create fouls – going 10 for 10 for the night at the line.
The Gators led at halftime by 20 points but did let Vandy get back into it after they took their feet off the gas. This was the concern of this Florida team heading into SEC play – the offense was always there, but could they hold onto leads down the stretch. Getting as close as 74-70 with 1:38 left, the Gators would not fall victim to another blown game, making free throws late and ending on an important win.
A victory is more than huge, as Florida now gets the pleasure of traveling to College Station to take on Texas A&M, currently raked as the #5 overall team in the country. Tipoff is at 9:00 PM this Tuesday, January 2nd.
Photo Credit: Athlon Sports