Kadji is Key as Gators Move Forward

His stat line wasn't overwhelming Saturday night, but Gator freshman center Kenny Kadji made an impact in a game against the Vanderbilt Commodores where the Gators had to have him. Matched up during the game against All-SEC center A.J. Ogilvy, Kadji showed resilience and persistence against superb competition. The Gators are going to need a lot more of that as the season progresses.

Kenny Kadji finished the game with seven points on 3-of-5 shooting and three rebounds. But, it was his four blocked shots and 16 minutes that stood out on the night. With the Gators down to eight players that are capable of playing SEC competition right now, Kadji is desperately needed to step up his defense and his playing time as the Gators approach the post season.

The Gators are currently tied for the lead in the tough SEC East, and the season will get tougher as it gets longer. That is why Florida can really use Kadji, especially when he plays like he did in segments Saturday night. Late in the first half, Kadji was backed down to the basket by Ogilvy who is a strong offensive player. Ogilvy turned to shoot and Kadji blocked his shot. Ogilvy got the ball right back and tried a short hook shot only for Kadji to swat it again and to another Gator player. A race down court ensued and Kadji was there to put back a miss in the basket before he ever stopped running.

It is moments like this that Gator head coach Billy Donovan would like to see more of from his talented freshman.

"One of the things from a coaching perspective that is so challenging about the five to six minutes you saw there (from Kadji), one day we see it, the next day we don't…the next day we do," Donovan said after the game. "As much as I want to fast forward the process, I try to expose him as much as I can every day for who he wants to be. He has to get better in identifying in making a decision of who he wants to be. He has a side of him that needs to be more focused, alert, and attentive."

Kadji is starting to understand that he needs to focus on the task at hand every night and every day in practice. The Gators have leaned so much on their starting five, the young guys can help make this team so much better with more consistent play.

"I was just trying to go and play against a great center...I just wanted to do my best," he said after the game. "He's real big and way bigger than me. I think we need to do that more consistently. When we only have five players in there we don't want to wear them down."

When Kadji plays like he did, it helps motivate the others. After one of his blocked shots, sophomore center Alex Tyus got into the act and blocked a second shot. Tyus noted after the game, it gets them going to see the young guys stepping up too. "It got me energized," Tyus said.

Sophomore guard Nick Calathes has had to do everything for the Gators at times this season. As the Gators point man, he understands how someone like Kadji can help this team that really needs for the newcomers to take a step forward.

"Kenny stepped up too," Calathes said of his game Saturday night. "He had two blocks in a row in one possession and I thought he brought a lot of energy. When he does that it really helps us."

Against Ogilvy, Kadji focused on the game plan and followed through with it.

"I just needed to play hard, not try to outwork him, just run the floor and get rebounds and stuff like that," he said. "We tried to wear him down because we knew he wasn't in the best condition."

Up next for the Florida Gators is the SEC leading LSU Tigers. LSU actually relies on their starting five more than the Gators and four players average more than 30 minutes each on the floor. The Gators and their full court pressing attack will need for the Kenny Kadji's of the roster to make another step forward on the road at Baton Rouge against a very veteran group.

Gator assistant coach Larry Shyatt talked about the issues that the Tigers present the Gators.

"LSU presents some tremendous problems," Shyatt said in a coach's teleconference Monday. "They have six players playing a tremendous amount of minutes, five of which are seniors and one a junior. They have a maturity and a focus that all of us want in our teams. Watching them play over the last couple of weeks, they seemingly are getting better and are a team that know how to win down the home stretch."

For Donovan, he knows that maturity brings an understanding of the game and a mental ability to overcome sloppy or lazy play from overworking themselves.

"I think Kenny is very competitive, but his biggest challenge is fatigue," Donovan said. "When he gets fatigued, everything falls by the wayside. The biggest challenge is can he play for longer stretches and keep putting him in and use him on a regular rotation. I thought he was very good for us in the first half."

The Gators need Kadji to have a lot of first halves down the stretch.

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