The list of injuries was already long for the Florida men’s basketball team.
Senior center John Egbunu (6-foot-11, 265 pounds): 17 games missed.
Freshman forward Isaiah Stokes (6-foot-8, 270 pounds): 17 games missed.
Freshman forward Chase Johnson (6-foot-9, 205 pounds): 13 games missed.
Then, at the start of SEC play, sophomore center Gorjok Gak (6-foot-11, 245 pounds) and freshman guard Deaundrae Ballard (6-foot-5, 195 pounds) were added to that list, missing time for various health reasons.
But when Florida (12-5, 4-1 SEC) hosts Arkansas (12-5, 2-3 SEC) tonight at 7, none of that will matter.
Not the fact that in addition to missing Egbunu, Gak — the only other true center on the roster — will likely be sidelined with a concussion.
Not the fact that the size already lost in the frontcourt could be worsened by the absence of Ballard, one of the team’s taller guards, who is listed as questionable with flu-like symptoms.
Not the fact that those five players have missed a combined 50 games this year, forcing their teammates still standing to pull their weight and then some.
Coach Mike White will look for his short-handed team to play consistent defense against a Razorbacks squad that ranks second in the SEC with 85.1 points per game.
“They’re very much up-tempo, but they’ll also try to pound you in the paint a little bit,” White said. “(Daniel) Gafford has been terrific,” he added, calling the 6-foot-11 Arkansas forward one of the top young frontcourt talents in college basketball.
The Gators’ offense isn’t far behind, sitting at third in the SEC with 81.6 points per game. The infusion of transfer guards Jalen Hudson and Egor Koulechov has been a big part of Florida’s offensive success. Hudson leads the team with 16.2 points per game, while Koulechov is second with 15.2 points per game.
White expects a fast-paced game, and with both teams ranking in the bottom half nationally in scoring defense, the Gators and the Razorbacks could end up in a shootout.
UF will follow the lead of point guard Chris Chiozza, who has flourished in his first season running the Gators’ offense full time. The senior is averaging career highs in points, assists, rebounds and steals.
Forward Keith Stone and center/forward Kevarrius Hayes have held their own anchoring the team’s thin frontcourt. Both Stone and Hayes have seen significant increases in playing time as their fellow bigs recover from injury.
Stone has shaken off a slow start to the season, scoring in double figures each of the last four games, including a career-high 23 in Saturday’s loss to Ole Miss. In UF's previous 13 games, Stone only scored more than 10 points once.
“(Stone is) playing with a high level of intensity,” White said. “He’s flying to the offensive glass. He’s improving weekly defensively as well.”
Hayes has not provided the same scoring boost as Stone, but his 2.3 blocks per game lead the team and rank tied for third in the SEC. Hayes is also second on the team in steals, trailing only Chiozza.
The two SEC foes will meet tonight riding opposite waves of momentum. The Gators suffered their first conference loss of the season last weekend against Ole Miss, 78-72, snapping a six-game winning streak, while the Razorbacks are coming off a 65-63 win over Missouri to end a three-game losing streak that included a 21-point home loss against LSU.
White is 4-0 against Arkansas during his tenure in Gainesville but downplayed the streak, saying his team is trying to stay in the moment.
“It’ll have nothing to do with (this) game,” he said.
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Florida men's basketball coach Mike White and the rest of the Gators are entering today's contest against Arkansas short-handed, with as many as five players expected to sit out.