Coming out of a 66-55 loss to Miami on December 8, the Gators were struggling offensively because of their point guard play. Chris Chiozza and Kasey Hill weren’t setting up the offense well and struggled to create shots for other players. Through the first eight games, the duo had 48 assists to 23 turnovers.
Florida coach Mike White made a change going into the team’s game at No. 1 Michigan State on December 12, inserting Chiozza into the starting lineup while Hill went to the bench. Hill has continued to play starter’s minutes off the bench, but the two point guards have combined for 25 assists and just four turnovers over the three games since the change was made.
“I think over our last three, our point guards have been really solid,” White said. “They’ve made good decisions, our assist-to-turnover ratio has been really good. We’re taking good shots, we’re delivering the ball to the right people at the right time in the right spots. Chris continues to shoot the ball well, and then defensively, both of those guys are playing well for us. They lead our biggest strength and that’s been our defense.”
The emergence of Chiozza and Hill has helped the entire team play better. Both are solid athletes that are disruptive on the defensive end of the floor. The Florida offense isn’t elite while the two point guards are playing better, but it’s a step above where the Gators were during the first eight games of the year.
“It helps a lot,” forward Devin Robinson said. “Finally, a few guys are starting to come together and figure out their games. We need as much help as we can. We don’t have the most talented guys in the country, but we work well with what we have. I think it’s starting to help us a lot by them coming together and helping every one out.”
WALKER HELPING ON DEFENSE
DeVon Walker has struggled offensively this season, shooting 30.2 percent (13-43) from the field and 13.3 percent (2-15) from behind the three-point line. White said his shot is improving after spending a lot of extra time in the gym, but the one constant in Walker’s game is his defense. He’s athletic enough to guard four positions on the floor and has been an important part of Florida’s defensive dominance to start the year.
“DeVon is a guy, he’s probably one of our better defenders, when his juices are flowing,” White said. “He’s one of our best communicators, which is good on that end, too. And he’s got good length and competitiveness. He’s a guy that can give us good possessions, positive defensive possessions for sure.”
SURPRISES, FRUSTRATIONS SO FAR
Tuesday’s game against Florida State will be the Gators’ final tune up before Southeastern Conference play begins this weekend.
White said coming into the season that this team had a high ceiling and a chance to be really good, but they’ve been inconsistent so far. On the negative side, he pointed to the three-point percentage being too low and the number of attempts being too high considering the struggles. The Gators are shooting just 62.3 percent from the free throw line this season, and they aren’t getting to the stripe enough.
“Our free throw percentages, we’ve got to fix it,” White said. “We’ve got to get to the foul line more, got to convert more.”
To improve the three-point shooting, the Gators have talked in practice this week about getting more touches in the paint. It will cause the defense to collapse and open up more open shots on the perimeter.
The positive side of the Gators has been on the defensive end of the floor. Ken Pomeroy’s statistics rank the Gators as the third best defensive team in the country.
“I think we’ve got to be really pleased with where we’re at,” White said. “Does that mean we can’t get better? No it doesn’t. We can continue to make improvements with personnel, scouting reports, changing defenses and all being on the same page.”