When Florida last faced UConn on Dec. 2, Kasey Hill watched from the end of the Gators’ bench.
At the time, the freshman point guard was nursing a high ankle sprain and could not help Florida as it fell to UConn 65-64 in Storrs, Conn., on a Shabazz Napier buzzer beater.
UF played the final three minutes of the contest without a point guard because starter Scottie Wilbekin suffered his own ankle injury late in the game and did not return.
But Saturday night will be a different story.
Hill, who has excelled in the NCAA Tournament despite playing through turf toe, will be available for the No. 1 seed Gators when they square off against the seventh-seeded Huskies at 6:09 p.m. in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“Kasey can definitely help us; it gives us more depth in the backcourt,” coach Billy Donovan said.
“I think Kasey in the tournament, and even going back to the SEC has come on. He’s played better. He’s improved. I’ve got confidence in him. He makes our team faster when he’s out there.”
Added Hill: “(I’ve been) just playing with more confidence, playing aggressive. Just trying to play my hardest for this team and give them all I got.”
In four tournament games, Hill has averaged 5.3 points per game and has totaled a team-high 15 assists against only four turnovers.
But what the Umatilla native has done for Florida goes further than the stat sheet.
The freshman has provided solid minutes in the backcourt alongside Wilbekin in a two-point guard lineup, utilizing his blazing speed to create offensive opportunities for him and his teammates.
“Unless you have a guy like him in practice, you can’t really simulate that; we need him to get his speed into the game,” sophomore shooting guard Michael Frazier II said. “When he gets into the game, just rise the temperature of the game.”
Hill’s best game in Memphis, Tenn., came against the Bruins on Thursday.
He shined in UF’s 79-68 win over UCLA in the Sweet 16, racking up a game-high 10 assists, six points and six rebounds.
“I thought what he did in the UCLA game really helped us,” Donovan said. “He manufactured a lot of easy baskets for us by getting down the lane.”
The freshman point guard has also made strides defensively throughout the tournament, recording five steals, a block and 10 defensive rebounds.
“On the defensive side, definitely feel more comfortable there,” Hill said. “Getting out and making plays on the defensive end and stuff like that. I wasn’t really doing that at the beginning of the season.”
Hill’s turf toe has caused him some discomfort during Florida’s tournament run, but he said he should be fine moving forward.
Donovan shared the same sentiment Monday.
“I know turf toe is painful, but come on, we’re playing in the Final Four,” Donovan said.
“He’ll be fine. He’s a great kid. Hopefully his toe will be OK and he’ll be able to play. But I do appreciate him working through that. He doesn’t appear to be in a lot of pain when he’s running around out there. He’s moving pretty well.”
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Kasey Hill (0) defends Dayton’s Khari Price during the Gators’ 62-52 win over the Flyers on Saturday in FedExForum in Memphis, Tenn. Hill missed UF’s first game against UConn with an ankle sprain and is currently playing through turf toe.