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Old 02-08-2018, 02:16 AM
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Default Florida 73 Louisiana State (LSU) 64
GAINESVILLE, Fla. On Monday, when the Florida basketball team convened for the first time since a dreadful home loss to Alabama two days earlier that represented the low point of the Mike White era, the players and coaches went into the locker room to review film and talk about the direction of the season.

They came out two and a half hours later.

The block of time normally allocated for practice, instead, morphed into a clear-the-air meeting. The UF players and coaches spoke candidly about a variety of topics, ranging from effort to selfishness to leadership to chemistry to accountability. Not everybody spoke, but if Wednesday night's energetic 73-64 home win over LSU was an indication, everybody must have listened.

"Sometimes conflict is good," graduate-transfer forward Egor Koulechov said. "Sometimes you need to clear the air and get some things off your chest."

Maybe they should meet for some real talk more often.

Forward Keith Stone (25) scored 15 points for the Gators.
Junior swingman Jalen Hudson scored 18 points, grabbed nine rebounds and along with junior guard KeVaughn Allen made some clutch shots in the final minutes, as the Gators snapped a three-game Southeastern Conference losing streak with their best 40-minute combination of effort, energy and attention to detail this season. Sophomore forward Keith Stone had 15 points, Koulechov pitched in 10 of his 12 in the second half, while senior point guard Chris Chiozza turned in a defensive gem against Tigers freshman point guard Tremont Waters, one of the league's most explosive playmakers.

"When we play that hard and that together we'll have a chance every night," UF coach Mike White said. "If not, we might have a couple we can win, but you also have a chance to get your brains beat in."

Like the last two games.

The victory, which followed two straight SEC home defeats, left the Gators (16-8, 7-4) alone in third place in the SEC standings, one game behind second-place Tennessee and two behind first-place and eighth-ranked Auburn, which lost at home late Wednesday to Texas A&M.

"We have to build on this game," said Hudson, who had easily his finest end-to-end performance of the season. "We don't want to celebrate this. We have to keep the fire and edge that we played with tonight."

They definitely looked fueled by both. Defensively, the Gators weren't perfect, but the Tigers (13-10, 4-7) also made some difficult shots and some long late-clock 3-pointers. LSU actually erased a 12-point second-half deficit and twice took a one-point lead inside seven minutes remaining. Its last lead was at 61-60 after a driving bank shot by Waters (9 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) with 5:41 remaining, part of a run when the Tigers, after starting the half 1-for-7 from the floor, hit nine of 10 field-goal attempts.

But just 20 seconds after Waters' shot, Hudson rose up from the top of the key and banged in a long 2-point shot to push the Gators back in front. The UF defense forced a turnover on LSU's ensuing possession. Nursing that one point lead, Florida probed for something as the shot clock wound down, and as the Rowdy Reptiles counted the final seconds aloud, Allen drove into the paint, guarded closely by Brandon Rachel, and finessed a floater through contact that rolled in for the "and-1." Allen hit the free-throw to make it 65-61. A turnover by Tigers guard Brandon Sampson (17 points, 4-for-7 from 3) was answered by a 3-pointer from Hudson to go up seven inside four minutes left as Exactech Arean/O'Connell Center, for the first time in a while, had something to cheer loudly about.

Waters' 3-pointer, though, cut the margin back to four, but the Tigers against an invigorated Gators defense missed its last eight shots of the game, while UF put it away with a step-back baseline jumper from Allen and a 3-point play by Hudson with 1:15 remaining to go up nine.

"Hudson took over down the stretch," LSU coach Will Wade said. "He made some big-time plays, big-time shots."

He helped Florida shoot 51.9 percent from the floor, which equaled its best percentage over the last 20 games. The Gators did so despite going just 6-for-18 from the 3-point line, but put themselves in position by limiting the Tigers to 44.4 percent for the game and forcing 16 turnovers that were converted to 21 points.

Waters, the 5-foot-11 point guard, came into the game as the SEC's No. 11 scorer at 15.3 points, shooting 43 percent overall and 37 from the 3-point line. Facing mostly Chiozza, though, Waters left the O'Dome just 3-for-15 from the floor and 1-for-9 from the arc over 35 minutes.

Said Wade: "He ran into a senior point guard tonight. That's a guy who wants to get it right."

Chiozza wanted to get this game right, but also the team righted. For one thing, it was "Cheez Night," with the entire Rowdy Reptile section wearing foam cheese heads in his honor. Chiozza didn't stuff the box score (3 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists), but he hassled Waters for basically his entire 35 minutes. His team, meanwhile, fed off his energy.

And the meeting.

"We talked about some things and I think it helped us," Chiozza said. "I think we came out ready and played a lot harder. They made runs, they made big shots, but we didn't make any bad plays down the stretch. We weren't worrying about losing."

Just about playing hard. Just about winning.

"I thought we had a really productive meeting, the results of which showed up tonight. Our guys played really hard," White said. "What remains to be seen is if that meeting will affect one game or the rest of the season."

Check back Saturday.

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Old 02-08-2018, 11:20 AM
E's Army E's Army is offline
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