Freshman guard Mike Okauru received an inbounds pass 15 minutes into the first half and immediately knew what to do with the ball.
He turned his body up court and zipped a pass to fellow freshman guard Deaundrae Ballard. Ballard took one smooth dribble, pulled up from mid-range and drained the open shot to give Florida a 30-29 lead.
When Gorjok Gak walked onto the floor of the O’Connell Center, his first defensive play didn’t go as planned. Right away, the 6-foot-11 center…
Despite eventually losing to Florida State by 17, both guards exhibited a wide range of skills in an otherwise disappointing night for Florida.
“They handled everything well,” redshirt junior guard Jalen Hudson said. “Definitely a lot of growing to do, but those guys can definitely help us.”
Although Florida’s thin in the frontcourt, coach Mike White showed no concern digging deep into his guard rotation.
And in a night where UF’s backcourt starters of Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen combined for 18 points on 4-of-16 shooting from the field, Okauru and Ballard became crucial to sticking with the Seminoles for the majority of the game.
Ballard found creases in the FSU defense that earned him a few quick buckets. Early in the first half, Ballard forced his way up the court and missed a short jumper but followed his own miss with a put back that sent the O’Connell Center into a frenzy.
The 6-foot-5 guard also became a bully on the glass, leading Florida with nine rebounds. Apart from Ballard, Florida was manhandled rebounding the ball, losing the battle 51-34.
“I loved his fight and his competitiveness,” White said. “He’s going to continue to earn more and more minutes.”
Okauru’s contributions came in shorter spurts. In four first-half minutes, Okauru hit a corner three to bring the game within three points, grabbed a rebound and dished out an assist to Ballard.
The freshman tandem combined for 11 points and 10 rebounds in 31 valuable minutes of action.
The sour defeat at the hands of one of the Gators’ top enemies also sparked a flame in the freshmen for future matchups.
“If you lose, you wanna go beat them,” Ballard said. “Never back down. Revenge.”
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