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Monday, March 04, 2024

Chris Chiozza adjusting to starting role for Florida

<p>UF’s Chris Chiozza drives down the court during Florida’s 95-63 win against Auburn on Jan. 23, 2016, in the O’Connell Center.</p>

UF’s Chris Chiozza drives down the court during Florida’s 95-63 win against Auburn on Jan. 23, 2016, in the O’Connell Center.

Chris Chiozza replaced Kasey Hill as Florida’s starting point guard on Dec. 12 at Michigan State.

Even so, there’s no fierce competition between the two guards to prove that they’re worthy of playing time.

Chiozza likes when he and Hill get the chance to share the court, something they did a lot of in Saturday’s home win over Auburn.

Over the Gators’ last five games — in which the team has gone 4-1 — Chiozza has played like a true pass-first point guard. The sophomore averaged 7.6 assists per game over that span, including a season-high 14 points in Saturday’s win. Chiozza has now started 11 straight games, matching his freshman season total, and has transitioned nicely into the starting lineup.

"I think other than the Mississippi State game, (Chiozza) has been maybe our most consistent player," UF coach Mike White said.

"He’s defended at a high level against both of the scoring point guards that we faced, Auburn and Ole Miss. … And then (his) assist-to-turnover ratio (3.74) is really, really good. He takes good shots. He’s shooting at a high percentage."

Against Auburn, Chiozza and Hill played 25 and 26 minutes respectively. Some of their best minutes were spent playing together.

"I like playing with Kasey," Chiozza said after Saturday’s game. "It just gives another level of speed out there with both of us out there and two guards that can handle the ball. Either one of us can initiate the offense."

White said certain situations call for the point-guard duo to play together. If freshman guard KeVaughn Allen is shooting well, it’s difficult to take him out, but if Florida is playing with a lead and wants an additional ball-handler or if the Gators need to press defensively, then the Chiozza-Hill combination makes more sense.

"Regardless of who gets the ball, they act as the point…playing with two point guards gives us added speed and quickness," White said. "It allows us to push the basketball a little bit more. You have added decision-making abilities. Being an inexperienced team, you have a junior and sophomore out there that also played together last year, so it’s added experience … it’s definitely a luxury to have two point guards who are playing pretty well."

Chiozza’s next challenge will come tonight in Nashville against Vanderbilt (11-8, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) in his home state of Tennessee. The Gators (13-6, 5-2 SEC) and Commodores face off at 9.

The challenge will be slowing down guard Wade Baldwin IV, who leads Vanderbilt with 14.5 points per game and is shooting 45.5 percent from three-point range. As a team, the Commodores average 8.5 made three-pointers per game, second in the SEC only to Auburn’s 9.6. Florida held the Tigers to 6-of-24 from beyond the arc on Saturday.

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"You’re already down 10 points on the road," said Chiozza, whose team will try to extend their three-game winning streak tonight in Nashville. "We got to come out with a lot of energy and just worry about that game and focus on Vanderbilt and not worry about the last one."

Contact Alex Maminakis and follow him on Twitter @alexmaminakis

UF’s Chris Chiozza drives down the court during Florida’s 95-63 win against Auburn on Jan. 23, 2016, in the O’Connell Center.

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