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Thursday, May 19, 2022
<p dir="ltr"><span>UF forward Keith Stone tore the ACL in his left knee against Georgia on Jan. 19.</span></p><p><span> </span></p>

UF forward Keith Stone tore the ACL in his left knee against Georgia on Jan. 19.

 

There was a moment where it was up to redshirt freshman forward Isaiah Stokes to guard the paint.

Center Kevarrius Hayes had to be pulled due to foul trouble and forward Dontay Bassett was being checked on by a trainer. It was just Stokes, at that moment, trying to keep Ole Miss from finishing at the rim.

The same Stokes who coach Mike White said had a hard time doing line drills at practice just a couple weeks ago at a media opportunity.

Stokes played well, despite some early slip-ups like a turnover on his first possession. He provided five solid minutes in the second half that the Florida men’s basketball team desperately needed.

“He’s shown more of an effort, more urgency in practice,” White said. “You guys can feel it, you guys can tell.”

Stokes was there to bail the Gators out this time, but his presence showed a major problem in their defensive scheme.

Florida is suffering from a lack of size on defense since forward Keith Stone’s season-ending injury against Georgia on Jan. 19.

It only has five players on its roster listed at 6-foot-8 or taller: center Gorjok Gak, Stone, Bassett, Hayes and Stokes.

The Gators announced that Gak was redshirting this season, and Stone has officially been ruled out the rest of the year. That leaves Hayes, Bassett and Stokes as the only players left with the size needed to guard the paint.

Bassett is a sophomore who received a little bit of playing time last season, while Stokes didn’t see the court at all last year while rehabbing from a torn ACL.

Take those two away and that leaves Hayes, a forward-turned-center, left to play the five.

Stone wasn’t having a good season offensively — 6.1 points per game, 0.6 assists per game and 19.2 minutes per game — but he was an important asset on defense. His size prevented mismatches and eased the pressure for Hayes on the inside.

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Florida’s answer to Stone’s injury has been to start freshman forward Keyontae Johnson at the four, who has the height of a guard at 6-foot-5.

The Gators can get away with the lack of size when they play Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats don’t boast a big starting lineup, but they do have two players at least 6-foot-10 in forwards Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery. The majority of their scoring will most likely come from outside the paint.

Against other teams, however, the Gators will need Hayes, Johnson and the rest of their “bigs” to be a big presence under the basket.

“(Kentucky is) very difficult to defend,” White said. “They run good stuff, they can beat you a lot of different ways offensively.”

Follow Jake Dreilinger on Twitter @DreilingerJake and contact him at jdreilinger@alligator.org

UF forward Keith Stone tore the ACL in his left knee against Georgia on Jan. 19.

 

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