Florida guard Chris Chiozza dashed toward the basket, zipping through a scattered Arkansas defense as he ran the length of the court on a fast break. As he entered the paint, Chiozza hit fellow guard KeVaughn Allen with a no-look, behind-the-back bounce pass. Allen hit the three-pointer from the right wing of court, increasing UF’s lead to 12 points.
But the 9,929 fans in the O’Connell Center weren’t focused on the score. They were focused on Allen, Florida’s offensive dynamo, who — at least for a night — had finally broken out of his recent shooting slump.
The list of injuries was already long for the Florida men’s basketball team.
With Wednesday’s 88-73 win over Arkansas, the Gators moved into first place in the SEC standings.
Allen and teammate Jalen Hudson led the way for Florida (13-5, 5-1 SEC), combining for 35 of its 48 first-half points. After scoring 17 points in the previous four games combined, Allen finished with a season-best 28 points on 8-for-12 shooting.
UF coach Mike White and guard Egor Koulechov said they were happy about Allen’s big night. “Wow, did he play a great game,” White said. “He needed it, and we needed it.”
Allen also had six of the team’s 13 three-pointers. Hudson put up 21 points off the bench and also snagged nine rebounds.
“I just continue to push myself to be more aggressive,” Allen said. “It’s a good feeling knowing that you’ve got the fans and coaches and players behind your back.”
Florida began to pull away six minutes into the first half. Tied at 15, a layup by guard Mike Okauru gave Florida the lead, one it wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the night. The Gators’ advantage ballooned to 18 points later in the frame before the Razorbacks’ Darius Hall dunked as time expired. Florida still led 48-33 heading into the locker room.
Arkansas (12-6, 2-4 SEC) scored the first five points of the second half, cutting the Gators’ lead to 10 after a three-pointer and layup in the opening minute. The Razorbacks later managed to pull within nine midway through the period, but Florida was able to maintain control of the game, jumping ahead by as much as 21.
Koulechov led the team with 10 second-half points. It was the seventh straight game Koulechov has scored in double figures.
Chiozza (seven points, nine assists) helped orchestrate one of the team’s best overall offensive performances of the season. The senior also had three steals, combining with center Kevarrius Hayes (three blocks) to set the tone defensively.
Florida benefited from a solid performance by its bench, and it shot significantly better from the line than Arkansas. The Gators’ second unit outscored the Razorbacks’ 27-12 and as a team, Florida made 19-of-22 free throw attempts compared to Arkansas, which shot just 6 of 15.
In all, it was an encouraging win for Florida. Aside from the re-emergence of Allen, the Gators set a season high for points in conference play and recorded six blocks, the second-most against SEC teams this season.
Florida will hope to ride that momentum into Saturday’s road matchup against No. 18 Kentucky (14-4, 4-2 SEC). The Gators are 3-1 against ranked teams this year, but White isn’t thinking about that as he prepares his team for the Wildcats. He says it’s always about the next game, not what’s happened in the past.
“It’ll be a really tough task on the road in the SEC,” White said, although he did add that Allen regaining his form bodes well for the Gators moving forward.
“Whether it were Kentucky or anyone else, yeah, getting KeVaughn going absolutely makes you feel better about that next game.”