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Friday, April 12, 2024

Gators men’s basketball set to open conference play against Kentucky

Florida has three nationally ranked opponents slated over the next two weeks of conference play

Florida graduate student forward Tyrese Samuel dunks the ball in the Gators' 77-57 home win over the Merrimack Warriors on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.
Florida graduate student forward Tyrese Samuel dunks the ball in the Gators' 77-57 home win over the Merrimack Warriors on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.

An undefeated December puts the Florida Gators men’s basketball team in unfamiliar territory. The team’s 6-0 stretch marked only the second undefeated month for the program since the 2014 team that reached the Final Four.

“I do think it’s our depth. Our depth and our talent. Obviously, we only have one year to compare it to – and we’re a lot better than we were last year,” Florida head coach Todd Golden said in a press conference Thursday.

Golden has led his squad to a 10-3 start in his second year at the helm. However, Florida will be tested right away in the new calendar year as it begins Southeastern Conference play Saturday against the No. 6 Kentucky Wildcats.

“They're an elite offensive team,” Golden said. “They play with great pace. They have multiple perimeters who can really push it and play make.” 

Golden and the Gators are set to take on three ranked opponents over the first two weeks of conference play. The team is currently in sixth place in the SEC based on their overall record.

Florida has a balanced offensive attack highlighted by several players averaging double-digit points per game. Junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. is the Gators' leading scorer averaging 15.2 points at a 45% field goal percentage.

Golden praised graduate student Zyon Pullin for the start of his 2023-2024 campaign. The shifty guard is averaging 14.1 points per game and leads the team with 50 assists this season.

“Since he's come back, I think he's third in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio,” Golden said. “He does an incredible job getting to the foul line and then he just keeps you really sturdy.”

Rounding out the backcourt for the Gators is junior guard Will Richard. Coming off of a season-high 22 points against Quinnipiac, Richard had the hot hand from the 3-point line and leads Florida with 26 3-pointers made on the season.

Graduate student Tyrese Samuel has been a force down low for the squad. The Seton Hall transfer has been aggressive on the boards hauling in a team-high 8.8 rebounds per game. Samuel has flashed his talents on the defensive end as well, averaging one block per game through Florida’s 10-3 start.

The last member of the Gators starting lineup is hard to miss. 7-foot-1 sophomore center Micah Handlogten is shooting 64% from the field while protecting the rim with 0.9 blocks per game.

“Micah is a guy that will probably be a little underappreciated at times,” Golden said. “But he does so many things that equate to winning.”

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Golden’s cited depth was one of the signatures of the roster. Sophomore guard Riley Kugel, who has started and come off the bench this season, is averaging 11.5 points per game. Freshman forward Alex Condon is averaging 8.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 19 minutes per game.

“There are different guys who can do it on different nights,” Golden said.

UK (10-2) will arrive with no shortage of offensive production. They’re led by guards Antonio Reeves and Rob Dillingham. Reeves leads Kentucky in scoring at 19 points per game with Dillingham just behind him at 14.3.

"We just got to stop the ball early and transition, that's probably like the main goal right there because they're fast — make open 3s in transition,” Samuel said.

The Gators will travel to Oxford, Mississippi, on Jan. 10 after their bout with Kentucky to take on the undefeated Ole Miss Rebels. The Rebels' 13-0 start to the season has earned them the No. 22 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25.

Ole Miss begins SEC play at the top of the conference standings. Matthew Murrell and Allen Flanigan lead the way for the Rebels averaging 17 and 16.7 points, respectively.

Florida and Tennessee will meet on Jan. 16 in Knoxville. The Tennessee Volunteers are off to a 10-3 start to this season’s campaign. The Vols come out of non-conference play with a top-five ranking in the AP poll. 

The No. 25 Tigers are in third place in the conference and are led by 6-foot-10 forward Johni Broome. The junior forward is averaging 15.8 points per game while snatching 8.7 rebounds. Auburn will travel to Gainesville on Feb. 10 to take on the Gators.

UF will face conference rival Georgia on Jan. 27 in the O’Dome. Former Florida head coach Mike White is set to return to Gainesville to take on his former team.

Tip-off against Kentucky is set for 12:30 p.m. at the O’Dome Saturday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. 

Contact Max at Follow him on X @MaxTuckerUF25.

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Max Tucker

Max Tucker is a junior transfer student at UF. After obtaining his A.A. in Journalism from Santa Fe College in 2023, he chose further his education at Florida's College of Journalism and Communications. Max is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Journalism with a specialization in sports and media. He enjoys golfing and going to the beach with his friends in his free time. Max will be covering the Gators Golf teams this Fall for The Alligator.

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