Balance, stifling defense lead No. 8 Florida over N. Florida
By ETHAN BAUER
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Wajid Aminu smiled when he was introduced as a starter for North Florida, laughing and dancing with his teammates on the court before the game's opening whistle blew.
There was no dancing to be done for Aminu or any other North Florida players when the game ended. No. 8 Florida's potent offense and stifling defense ensured that.
Led by six double-figure scorers and an unrelenting defensive assault, Florida dominated the Ospreys 108-68 on Thursday night.
"This is a Final Four team," UNF coach Matthew Driscoll said of the Gators.
"In all my years of coaching, and this is my 30th year of coaching, this is probably one of the most unselfish teams that has so many guys that can score the ball."
Junior KeVaughn Allen was Florida's top scorer with 18 points. The balanced scoring helped the Gators (2-0) dismantle the Ospreys (0-4) from the beginning, with Keith Stone, Gorjok Gak and Allen contributing some emphatic dunks along the way.
Stone had 14 points and he was followed by Egor Koulechov with 13 and Jalen Hudson, Deaundrae Ballard and Gak with 12 each.
"That helps," Allen said of the balance. "That helps a lot."
Koulechov's performance was a shell of his 34-point opening night effort that broke Florida's scoring record for a debut. The transfer from Rice was still prominent with his 13 points, but his accuracy from 3-point range fell from 6-of-9 to 2-of-5.
But thanks to Koulechov on Monday and Florida's balanced attack on Thursday, the Gators scored in triple digits in consecutive games for the first time since the 2003-04 season, when they trounced Northeastern 101-84 and Eastern Kentucky 109-63. UF defeated Gardner-Webb 116-74 on Monday.
Senior point guard Chris Chiozza, who started Thursday after coming off the bench in Florida's season opener, had nine points, seven rebounds and a team-best six assists.
"I think it is something that we can sustain," Hudson said of having multiple players contribute offensively every night, "but we want to hang our hat on defense."
That effort went well, too.
Florida suffocated the Ospreys and forced them to settle for poor shots, although their 68 points were their second-most so far in this young season. The Gators held UNF to 23 points in the first half.
"The defensive intensity from the jump was better than the other night," Florida coach Mike White said. "It was the best it's been, in my opinion."
Florida's biggest problem was foul trouble. Three Gators accrued four fouls each. White also said the team needs to work on rebounding, even though it outrebounded the Ospreys 44-29.
Sophomore Trip Day led North Florida with 14 points. Four Ospreys also scored in double figures, though the rest of the team contributed little scoring.
Meanwhile, every player who got into the game for the Gators scored, including walk-ons Mak Krause and Andrew Fava, who were just added to the team's roster about two weeks ago. Krause made a free throw and Fava made a layup for their first collegiate baskets, leading to the loudest ovations of the night.
Both Krause and Fava both still serve as team managers despite also playing for the team.
"These guys are doing laundry and making lunch runs for the staff," White said. "And then they go out there, and they were pretty good at executing our offense."
That pretty much said everything as the Gators cruised to their second consecutive win.
The loss dropped the Ospreys to 0-7 all-time against Florida.
Whether that's a precursor to the Final Four, White isn't so sure.
"I used to really like him," he joked about Driscoll's prediction. "I appreciate his friendship and his faith in what we're doing over here."
North Florida: UNF is off to its worst start since the 2008-09 season, when the Ospreys lost their first eight games. A tough early slate against No. 2 Michigan State, Michigan, VCU and now No. 8 Florida has left North Florida without a win with a fellow winless opponent - Mount St. Mary's (0-3) - up next.
Florida: With aspirations of returning to the Elite Eight and exceeding it, a 40-point win over an overmatched North Florida squad doesn't show the team can compete with elite opponents. It also doesn't show it can't.
LOSING THEIR LEAD
North Florida's Ivan Gandia-Rosa opened the game with a quick 3-pointer. Allen responded with his own 3-pointer seconds later, and the Gators never trailed from there.
CHANGING IT UP
White made some alterations to his starting lineup, opting for Gak at center over Stone and Chiozza at guard over Hudson.
North Florida will spend the weekend in Spartanburg, South Carolina, playing in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational on the mainland bracket. The Ospreys play Mount St. Mary's on Saturday and Wofford on Sunday.
The Gators finish their three-game season-opening home stand against New Hampshire on Sunday. Then they're off to Portland, Oregon, for the PK80, where they will open against Stanford on Thanksgiving.
Updated November 16, 2017