#17 Florida Gators (19-5, 9-2 SEC) vs. Texas A&M Aggies (13-10, 5-6 SEC)
Gainesville, Florida; Exactech Arena
Saturday February 10, 2017; Noon
As the Gators continue on their positive run through the SEC schedule a number of players have stepped up to play big time minutes. Newcomer Canyon Barry has been a positive force for his team throughout the season. The graduate senior transfer was supposed to be cure for the Gators’ shooting woes, but he’s been much more than that for head coach Mike White’s squad.
“He’s brought a lot,” White said of Barry. “I think the misnomer is that he came in as a guy that is just going to score for us, but he’s done a lot for us. He’s been good in the locker room. He’s got some leadership qualities. He’s a really good communicator. He’s a good scouting report guy like a few of our other guys. He’s positive energy every day that you see him. You know what you’re going to get in practice.
“He’s been a good driver for us, a foul drawer, and a guy that converts at the foul line. He’s made big baskets for us, but, he’s an improved defender and rebounder for us. He’s coming off his best game against Georgia where he also got some big rebounds for us.”
A lot like Barry, sophomore forward Kevarrius Hayes is a positive energy guy and someone that goes hard every second he is on the basketball court. Hayes continues to raise his game and start to reach his potential.
Hayes has improved his offensive game of which White says he is just more comfortable on the floor.
“His hands have gotten better,” White said of Hayes. “He’s gotten stronger. He really worked this summer. He’s always been such a consistent guy. You guys hear me beat it up about him and Justin and their motors, they’ve been terrific.
“I’d say overall confidence (has improved)… he’s probably slowed down a little bit offensively. Not that he’s made a huge jump with his skill level, but he’s playing a little bit slower. For guys like him and Justin that is sometimes easier said than done because they play so hard on the glass and defensively. I would say it’s just being calm with the ball in his hands.
“He’s a breath of fresh air every day, I love coaching Kevarrius Hayes.”
Florida is getting really good play from their two point guards. Senior starter Kasey Hill runs a hundred m.p.h. all the time and junior Chris Chiozza has played on a different level over the last five games. Chiozza has been either scoring big or getting the ball to his teammates to do that at a high level.
“He was struggling there for a little bit and he’s playing as well as just about any guard in our league right now,” White said of Chiozza. “Probably from a mentality standpoint as much as anything… he was probably overthinking some things a month ago. He’s focused on the right things right now. He’s focused on defending at the highest possible level and taking care of the basketball. Now he’s shooting the ball better as well. I’m sure he’s been in the gym a little bit more in addition to that.
Hill has improved his shot and is getting comfortable enough to take more of them. White likes the fact that he is taking shots within the frame of the offense and when teams are basically daring him to do so.
“I like him being aggressive right now and also it’s kind of how we’ve been defended,” White said of Hill and his more frequent shot taking. “We’re trying to stick to the theme with these guys that ‘we’ll take what they give us’. Certain teams have keyed in on certain guys and Kasey was open there a few times more than others in these last couple of games. Sometimes you look at the percentage and you wish that we’d have had a couple of more makes there, but I do know when he’s playing downhill and he’s aggressive it gives confidence to the other guys.
Allen should be okay…
The Gators last played at Georgia on Tuesday in a big 12-point win. Sophomore guard Kevaughn Allen came up a little sore in the contest and had to leave for a while. A back issue prompted his move from the floor, but the gators’ leading scorer was able to return. White says Allen is still a little sore, but he should be able to go Saturday against Texas A&M.
“It’s a little bit tight here these last couple of days as well,” White said of Allen’s back problem. “I haven’t seen him yet today. I think it’s minor and hopefully he’s 100% by tomorrow.”
Bring on the Aggies…
Texas A&M sports one of the bigger front lines the gators will face all season. With two post guys that both are 6-foot-10 and includes super sophomore Tyler Davis the Aggies also have Tonny Trocha-Morales and Robert Williams that take up space on the interior. The three are formidable.
“Yeah, then another coming off the bench,” White said about the size advantage for the Aggies. “They’re very big and very long. They’re very skilled. They’re aggressive; physical… we have to understand that it’s going to be a big battle from a physicality standpoint in terms of in the paint as much as anywhere else both offensively and defensively.
The Aggies are tops in the SEC in defensive rebounds, fourth in offensive rebounds and second in rebounding margin. Their ability to protect the rim has the Aggies ranked fifth in the league in field goal defense.
“Keeping them off of the offensive glass is going to be a huge challenge,” White said. “Defending them on the interior is going to be a huge challenge, and then scoring on the interior is going to be difficult against these guys’ two-point defense as well.”
White will prepare his team for the game with a little more rest. They have been running at full speed for a while now, and even with an extra day off after playing on Tuesday, he wants his guys to have a physical edge to them when they play the noon game on Saturday.
“One thing we’ve done a little bit different is that we took it a little bit easier Thursday), White said. “I think that energy level at the early tip (Saturday) against a team that is going to require the utmost physicality and energy level we can bring.
“I want to make sure we are fresh. We’ll change up the routine a little bit (Saturday) morning compared to what we’ve done the last couple of noon games. We actually got up really early and shot and we’ll try and get a little more sleep tomorrow morning.”