Before the season began, UF coach Mike White questioned if the Gators can compete with “griminess” and resilience. The play of point guard Chris Chiozza has given him an answer.
After his showing at the Phil Knight Invitational last week, Chiozza has proven he's the Gators’ “grimiest” player, someone that can be relied on in close games. Look no further than Florida’s double-overtime win against Gonzaga, when Chiozza registered 26 points and 10 assists in a career-high 46 minutes of action.
After a thrilling double-overtime win against No. 17 Gonzaga on Friday, the Gators played No. 1 Duke in the Phil Knight Invitational champions…
“What toughness he showed,” White said following the game.
White said Chiozza struggled to breathe after the final overtime ended, putting his body on the line so his team could pull out the 111-105 win.
Playing 40 minutes in a college basketball game is no easy task. Add two overtimes, and it’s even harder.
Chiozza exceeded that, playing 105 minutes in three games across four days, including 35 minutes against Duke on Sunday.
“He was incredibly tough and resilient coming off a bunch of minutes,” White said. “He scrapped and he fought.”
White expects nothing less from his starting point guard. White has always known Chiozza can compete at a high level, having scouted the point guard as a 15-years-old in Memphis.
However, Chiozza showed how much he has matured since his first year at Florida.
In his freshman season, he averaged 2.2 rebounds per game and collected 2.2 assists per game. In his senior campaign, Chiozza is averaging 5.7 rebounds a game and has 6.8 assists per game through six games.
“His game’s changed since he matured,” White said. “He’s got a lot stronger and he’s become a handful on the interior.”
While White praised Chiozza’s improvement and acknowledged the Gators defend better than now they did a month ago, he still expects more.
But for Chiozza, the biggest takeaway from the Phil Knight Invitational was the chance to prove Florida is a grind-it-out team and is taking White’s comments to heart.
Following a 108-87 win over Stanford, a hard-fought victory against Gonzaga and a three-point loss to top-ranked Duke, the Gators are starting to prove they can play at the level their coach wants.
“Just shows we got some toughness in us,” Chiozza said. “This tournament showed we were a tough team.”
A video on FloridaGators.com contributed to this article.
You can follow Jake Dreilinger on Twitter @DreilingerJake, and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.