Stressful time for Hayes and Gators without Egbunu

He has no choice. Florida sophomore center Kevarrius Hayes has to find a way to stay on the court as much as possible. With the season ending injury of starting center John Egbunu and injuries to others in the front court, Hayes feels the pressure of performing at a high level, but staying out of foul trouble so that he can stay on the court.

It’s a crazy dilemma. How do you play hard enough to be a difference maker, yet worry about getting into foul trouble in the process? That dilemma takes on a whole new level when you play a team that likes to play the game inside and bang.

We saw that on Saturday when Kevarrius Hayes and the Gators played at Mississippi State. Hayes got two fouls pretty early, but lucky for him and the Gators, he sucked it up and was able to finish strong and help will the Gators to the close win, their eighth in a row.

Hayes says there was a lot going on in his mind with the situation he faced.

“Stressful,” he said. “Having to play a lot and kind of got some cheap fouls there. Just trying to do my best and stay in the game the best I could… I knew just as long as I stay in the game, then I could help out.”

Playing 25 minutes, Hayes was able to stay on the court for two big blocks late in the game, and finished the game with the Bulldogs with 9 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. It was the kind of effort his team needs from him as they continue, with maybe a few more minutes on the floor as well.

“It felt good, seeing that I was able to be dependable kind of helped my team win,” he said about the late game play. “It felt good being a factor.”

He also knows that with so many guys out, he can’t do everything all by himself.

“We just know that everybody has to step up in some way. I gotta keep playing at a high level. My teammates gotta keep playing, defending the best we can, despite the factors because the games still gonna happen.” 

Teams are going to continue to pound it inside. It will take a team effort to keep them from being successful.

“Everybody being aware, doing their job, help, dig a little bit, or at least pressure the ball, not make passes easy,” he said about how to make it work in keeping people from taking advantage inside. “And then defending the ball as best we can, keep them outside of the paint.”

He and his teammates look forward to the challenge.

“They’re probably gonna try to go at me and get me in foul (trouble), but I just try to do what I do and rely on my teammates to help me out if I ever get in trouble.”

The Gators have lost just five games this season. One of those was to South Carolina who they play Tuesday night and who comes in playing a very physical style of game. It is the kind of play that will be taxing on the health issue facing the Gators.

“They’re a very physical team,” Hayes said of the Gamecocks and what is going to be tough. “Really good on defense, and they’ll kind of challenge us defensively. They’ll do that. Also, ourselves, defending at a high level, because we know how hard they play.”

“Just be smart and disciplined. Just try not to bite on shot fakes and stay as legal as I can.”

“Last time, (from) the tip, they boxed out hard. And do everything they can to try and win the physical battle, get the rebounds, driving to the hole, drawing fouls. It’s going to be a very tough game for all of us, mentally and physically.”

The Gamecocks (10-4 SEC) were a game up on the Gators in the SEC a couple of weeks ago, but have lost three of the last four and are two games behind Florida (12-2) and Kentucky in the SEC standings. Hayes understand the desperation factor, but the Gators feel the same kind of pressure with so many big games still left on the schedule.

“I feel like it’s just as important to us as it is to them,” he said about the game on Tuesday. “We know that every game counts, every game matters. Just because we’re on a win streak, we’re not going to take this game anymore lightly as we would anybody else. It’s going to be a very competitive and physical game. We’re going to rise to the occasion.”



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