The streaks and zings from that distinctive tattooed arm are over. Florida point guard Chris Chiozza will never again heave and toss passes or shoot and make buzzer beaters in a Gators uniform following UF’s 66-69 loss to Texas Tech in Saturday’s second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Mike White was adamant that Florida’s offense flowed through Chiozza this season, and Chiozza’s team-leading 208 assists back him up.
“At times, we have been stagnant with him out of the game,” White said. “We’re gonna miss him dearly.”
So with Chiozza, the team’s third-leading scorer, out of eligibility, where does UF turn to try and replace his production? And he’s not the only one the Gators will miss.
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Transfer Egor Koulechov finished his one season in Gainesville on Saturday as well and retired as UF’s second-leading scorer on the season. His 13.8 points per game trail only guard Jalen Hudson, who will be a senior if he decides to return to school in Fall. The answer to who will help make up for Florida’s losses starts with him.
As the team’s leading scorer, Hudson’s return would be a major boost to a team coming off its earliest tournament exit since 2010. But he’s obviously not the only answer.
Hudson’s passing can’t match Chiozza’s, but a pair of freshman guards might be UF’s best bet to try and get the offense moving.
The first is Andrew Nembhard, a five-star point guard rated as the nation’s 26th-best player. He’ll arrive in Gainesville as the highest-rated recruit of the Mike White era and Florida’s No. 8 recruit of all time, per 247Sports.
The other is Noah Locke, a four-star shooting guard rated No. 69 nationally.
Four-star shooting guard Keyontae Johnson is also committed to Florida, although he hasn’t signed yet. And with big men like Isaiah Stokes and Chase Johnson presumably healthy, Florida will have plenty of new pieces to work with. Nevertheless, White said the team’s future success is all about attitude.
“If all 13 of my guys were as tough as these guys,” he said, gesturing toward Chiozza and Koulechov, “we’d still be playing.”
Florida’s pitching once again grabbed headlines this weekend as the team opened Southeastern Conference play in Columbia, South Carolina, against the Gamecocks.
Florida grabbed two wins in the three-game series, with the first led by junior ace Brady Singer. He improved to 5-0 with six innings of one-run baseball and closer Michael Byrne picked up his fourth save with two scoreless innings.
Singer, a projected top-10 pick in this year’s MLB Draft, has grabbed headlines since before the season started, but Byrne has been perhaps the team’s best pitcher. In 16.2 innings on the mound, Bryne hasn’t allowed a run yet.
Saturday’s starter Jackson Kowar didn’t fare as well as Singer. The Gamecocks dealt him his first loss of the season by pouncing for five earned runs in five innings. The bullpen wasn’t much better, as the combination of Andrew Baker, Tommy Mace and Nick Long allowed 10 runs over the next three innings.
The pen got back on track Sunday, though, as Jordan Butler and Byrne combined for three scoreless innings to helps starter Tyler Dyson secure his fourth win of the season.
The offense was led by outfielder Wil Dalton, who hit three home runs in the series, and third baseman Jonathan India, who is hitting .400 entering Tuesday night’s game against Jacksonville.
Kelly Barnhill is indeed human. We know that for sure now, although until this weekend, it was hard to tell.
Florida’s junior ace has won basically every award a softball player can win, including an ESPY for Best Female Collegiate Athlete. She looked every bit of that title entering this past weekend’s series against Georgia.
Before she faced the Bulldogs, she’d already thrown a perfect game this season and her ERA entering the series was 0.20.
But then UGA’s Alyssa DiCarlo smacked a homer off Barnhill in the first inning of Friday’s game. Then so did Alysen Febrey, and then Mahlena O’Neal did, too. And suddenly, Barnhill was on the hook for a loss.
The Gators ended up coming back and lost their lead when Barnhill was already off the mound, so she didn’t take the official loss. She allowed another earned run the next day, yet her ERA despite those struggles still sits at 0.56.
The Gators dropped two of three in the series and will try to rebound with a midweek contest against USF on Wednesday. Then they’ll host Texas A&M for a three-game series starting on Saturday.
Florida’s gymnastics team will compete for an SEC title this Saturday at 7 p.m. in St. Louis, Missouri, without one of its best gymnasts.
Kennedy Baker was lost for the season on Feb. 23 with a torn Achilles’ tendon, and the team didn’t respond well in the immediate aftermath. It followed up losing Baker by losing to Missouri for the first time ever in 23 meetings. But the team responded a week later by throttling Nebraska with a score of 197.925, its second-best score of the season.
No. 5 UF’s main competition should be No. 2 LSU, which beat the Gators on Jan. 12.
No. 6 Alabama and No. 9 Kentucky are the other main contenders for the conference crown.
▪ UF’s men’s tennis team secured a pair of wins over the weekend with a 4-0 sweep of Tennessee on Friday and a 4-3 win over Vanderbilt on Sunday. The No. 12 Gators will face Ole Miss and Arkansas this weekend.
▪ Florida’s women’s tennis team wasn’t as lucky. It opened the weekend with a 1-4 loss to Georgia but recovered with a 4-1 win over Tennessee.