University of Florida

The Gators needed a breakout game from KeVaughn Allen. He finally delivered

The Gators (13-5, 5-1 SEC) downed the Razorbacks (12-6, 2-4 SEC) 88-73 to set up a showdown against No. 18 Kentucky this Saturday in Lexington.
The Gators (13-5, 5-1 SEC) downed the Razorbacks (12-6, 2-4 SEC) 88-73 to set up a showdown against No. 18 Kentucky this Saturday in Lexington. adiaz@miamiherald.com

This is Chris Chiozza’s team.

When the Gators need a clutch shot at the end of games, there’s little doubt where the ball is going. If they need an offensive boost, he’s coming into the game. If someone is getting in his teammates’ ears, it’s probably him.

This was supposed to be KeVaughn Allen’s team.

The junior guard was a preseason All-Southeastern Conference Team selection. He was supposed to be the go-to scoring option. He was never going to be vocal, but he was supposed to lead by example. Yet entering Wednesday night’s game against Arkansas, Allen was averaging 10.2 points per game — the fourth most on his own team.

Then, as if energized by the fictitious lightning that decorated the O’Connell Center court during pregame introductions, Allen surged. Behind his 28 points, the Gators (13-5, 5-1 SEC) downed the Razorbacks (12-6, 2-4 SEC) 88-73 to set up a showdown against No. 18 Kentucky this Saturday in Lexington.

His scoring started just over two minutes into the game when he netted a three-pointer. His stroke got better from there, and it seemed every shot — no matter how contested — landed inside the rim.

“He decided he’s going to put in a half hour extra outside of practice, getting in the gym, getting back to basics,” coach Mike White said Tuesday. “Just spending more time in the gym sometimes can do something for a basketball player.”

Do something indeed, apparently.

So where was Chiozza during Allen’s dominance of the Hogs? Well, he spent some time in the locker room after an awkward landing in the first half. But like Allen, he started the game strong.

The senior managed two early rebounds and a slashing layup before his injury. He wasn’t much of a scoring threat after that, though he did finish with a game-best nine assists.

That combination of small guards — Chiozza is 6 feet tall and Allen is 6-foot-2 — looked lethal for Florida at times, and it needs to. When it does, the Gators look poised to return to the Elite Eight.

Other guards, such as leading scorers Jalen Hudson and Egor Koulechov, also aid in that cause. The problem for the Gators arises when Allen — or Chiozza or Hudson or Koulechov — isn’t shooting the ball well. They have little to fall back on.

That’s thanks to a string of injuries that has depleted Florida’s front court. Centers John Egbunu and Gorjok Gak, and forwards Chase Johnson and Isaiah Stokes watched the Arkansas game from the comfort of sweatsuits on the bench.

Some or all of those injured players could be back by month’s end, but for now, the Gators must continue to rely on their hot-and-cold guards for production. Allen’s performance Wednesday provided some hope for a positive outcome.

So after Allen’s long-awaited breakout game, is he now the X-factor the team needs, or does that distinction still belong to Chiozza? The answer, if Florida wants to contend without its post players, is both.

“Chris Chiozza’s been terrific,” White said. “And, you know, if KeVaughn, if we can really get him really playing at a high level of aggressiveness and we can be hitting on all cylinders, it doesn’t fix some of our defensive woes, but it makes for a really potent offensive team.”

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