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Monday, October 02, 2023

Florida men’s basketball seeks answers on offense after blowout defeat

The Gators sit on the wrong side of the bubble in push to make NCAA tournament

Guard Riley Kugel drives to the basket against the South Carolina Gamecocks Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. Kugel finished the game with 14 points against South Carolina.
Guard Riley Kugel drives to the basket against the South Carolina Gamecocks Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. Kugel finished the game with 14 points against South Carolina.

The Gators men’s basketball team started the week with a commanding 21-point win against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Florida ended the week with a crushing defeat on the road against the No. 5 Kansas State Wildcats. Failure to make its shots plagued UF against KSU. 

The Florida Gators (12-9, 5-3 SEC) are currently listed on the bubble in the “Next Four Out” of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament as of Jan. 27, according to ESPN reporter Joe Lunardi. 

The Gators will need to find a way to make shots as they head into the toughest part of their schedule; the No. 4 Tennessee Volunteers and No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide are on the horizon. 

While Florida handled business against the Gamecocks, they missed an opportunity to secure a resumé-building win against the Wildcats to push them on the right side of the bubble. 

UF jumped out to an early lead against South Carolina and never gave up the lead Wednesday night. Five Florida players finished the night with double-digit points as the Gators defeated the Gamecocks 81-60. 

Freshman guard Riley Kugel made his first Southeastern Conference start against the Gamecocks. He finished the game with 14 points — a career-high —- on 6-9 shooting. 

Kugel stepped up in place of sophomore forward Alex Fudge, who suffered a head injury against Mississippi State Dec. 21. 

Florida head coach Todd Golden said Kugel has done a great job becoming a more efficient player. Kugel has improved as a shooter — shooting 39% from 3-point range — and has grown as a defender, Golden said. 

“When you put all of those things together, you’re looking at a guy that’s playing really, really well,” Golden said. 

Florida finished the game against the Gamecocks shooting 47% from the field but just 25.9% from beyond the arc. The Gators moved the ball around with a season-high 21 assists and only five turnovers. 

The team has been able to trust each other and make the extra pass, Golden said. He has emphasized how his team’s style of basketball has helped it win games, he said.

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“What I’m most proud about is just the way we continue to be unselfish and share the ball,” Golden said.

UF won five of its last six games heading into the contest against Kansas State. The Wildcats dominated the Gators and led for the full 40 minutes. 

Florida finished the game 31% from the field and 18.2% from beyond the arc in a 64-50 loss against Kansas State. The Gators’ ball movement stagnated against the Wildcats, with only 12 assists and 14 turnovers. 

The Gators have branded themselves as an elite defensive team, and boast the eighth-best adjusted defensive efficiency in the country as of Jan. 28, according to KenPom

Florida held 12 of its last 14 opponents to less than 40% from the field. The Gators are still only 8-6 over this stretch, and offensive inefficiencies have held them back. 

They’ve slid down the rankings in adjusted offensive efficiency as the Gators' shooting issues have failed to improve. Florida ranks as the 147th-best team in that category as of Jan. 28, according to KenPom.

A key factor for Florida’s improved ball movement is the backcourt duo of graduate student guards Kyle Lofton and Myreon Jones. The pair combined for 11 assists and zero turnovers in UF’s win against South Carolina. 

Their presence in the backcourt has allowed their teammates to find spots on the court where they are most comfortable and can succeed, Jones said. 

“[It’s] really just keeping everybody together, calm and collected for real,” Jones said.

Lofton and Jones have accounted for 104 of Florida’s 265 assists this season. The veteran guards have also protected the ball; Jones has 46 assists and just 13 turnovers, while Lofton has 58 assists and 23 turnovers. 

Golden was happy for Jones’ recent breakthrough, he said, and admired Jones and Lofton’s basketball IQs. 

“They’re Batman and Robin in the backcourt,” Golden said. “[Jones] and Kyle have just played really well off of each other.” 

The pair had just two assists and four turnovers against Kansas State in the 14-point loss. 

The Gators will rely on sophomore guard Kowacie Reeves for scoring down the stretch this season. 

The Macon, Georgia, native is utilized off the bench to provide points but has dealt with a recent shooting slump. Reeves has shot just 7-44 from beyond the arc since SEC play started against Auburn Dec. 28. 

Reeves was also held to less than 40% from the field in seven of his last eight games. His slump halted against South Carolina as he finished with 15 points on 6-12 shooting and 3-7 from deep.

The sophomore guard failed to get back into a rhythm against the Wildcats; he finished 0-5 from the field. Reeves averages 8.9 points per game, and his points will prove valuable heading into a stretch that features two top-five opponents. 

Florida will be back in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center to take on Tennessee Wednesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2. 

Contact Jackson Reyes at Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes.

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Jackson Reyes

Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.

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