Florida basketball score, takeaways: Riley Kugel stars as Gators sweep LSU on Senior Night

By OnlyGators.com Staff
March 4, 2023
Florida basketball score, takeaways: Riley Kugel stars as Gators sweep LSU on Senior Night

Image Credit: UAA

It may not have been a banner campaign for the Florida Gators, but there’s no question they ended the regular season on a high note, registering their second season sweep in as many games with a 79-67 win over the LSU Tigers on Senior Night at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.

The Gators (16-15, 9-9 SEC) not only finished above .500 despite dropping six of their prior seven games entering the last week, they have seen a pair of guards break out that should mean big things for Florida next season and beyond. Plus, head coach Todd Golden will get to enter the offseason with some bragging rights.

Golden on Tuesday finished 2-0 against counterpart Mike White of Georgia, who took over the Bulldogs coming off a seven-year stint with the Gators. On Saturday, he finished 2-0 against LSU head coach Mike McMahon, whose Murray State team beat Golden’s San Francisco team in the 2022 NCAA Tournament and whom a contingent of fans wanted Florida to hire over McMahon this offseason.

In fact, Golden improved to 7-0 this season against fellow first-year SEC coaches. This despite winning the last two games without forward Colin Castleton, who celebrated Senior Night alongside F CJ Felder and center Jason Jitoboh as well as guards Myreon Jones and Kyle Lofton.

Let’s take a look at what went right for the Gators on Saturday night as Florida looks ahead to the postseason after some Fastbreak Takeaways.

It was over when … freshman G Riley Kugel scored a fastbreak layup on an outlet pass following a turnover to put the Gators ahead 14 points with 1:45 remaining. Kugel scored 11 of 13 points for Florida over a stretch of 2:43 near the end of the game, hitting consecutive 3-pointers during that breakout.

LSU opened the second half on an 11-3 run to go up 12 points, but UF responded with an extended 16-5 scoring stretch to trail by one midway through the period. The Gators continued pushing with an 14-3 run highlighted by a shot clock buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Lofton to jump ahead eight with 4:32 to play. That preceded Kugel’s tremendous stretch to end the game. UF hit 50% of its treys (7 of 14) in the second half and outscored LSU 42-22 over the game’s final 14:54.

First half focus: Poor shooting struck the Gators again in the opening period. LSU opened a six-point lead with a late 9-0 run, and while were able to knot it at 25 with a 7-1 scoring stretch as a response, the visiting Tigers scored the final four points to lead at the break. UF shot just 38.7% from the field and 27.3% from 3-point land with only five assists on 12 baskets.

Exceptional efforts: Kugel finished with a game-high 21 points marking his eighth straight SEC game in double figures. That makes him the first Florida player to achieve that mark since Bradley Beal. Kugel hit 4 of 7 shots both inside and beyond the arc, adding thee rebounds and an assist. He has averaged 18.3 points during that stretch with 19+ points in each of his last four games.

Sophomore G Will Richard had another standout performance, posting 18 points (3/6 3PT) and six boards with a couple dimes just one game after scoring 24 points (5/8 3PT). Lofton was UF’s other double-digit scorer with 16 points, adding five rebounds and a game-high five assists.

Odds & ends: Florida improved to 52-66 all-time against LSU with a 32-22 mark in the O’Dome … Golden opens his career 2-0 agains the Tigers and 7-0 against first-year SEC coaches … the Gators have won four of the last five meetings in this series … this was just Florida’s third win when trailing at halftime (3-11) … the Gators improved to 15-2 when outshooting an opponent from the field (13-3 from downtown), 9-2 when shooting 40% or better from 3-point range … Florida had a 13-4 scoring edge off turnovers, 11-7 off the fastbreak

What it means: The Gators avoided what would have been their worst loss of the year while simultaneously giving Golden a feather in his cap given 4-0 record against White and McMahon. Florida also avoided ending the regular season below .500 and will seek to ensure they continue their winning ways as the postseason begins. It was a legitimate possibility that the Gators went winless following the loss of Castleton, but closing the campaign with consecutive wins despite being down their best player should provide some inspiration for the program entering the postseason.

What’s next? Florida looks ahead to the SEC Tournament where it will enter as the No. 8 seed facing No. 9 seed Mississippi State in second-round action. Unless the Gators win the entire tourney, which is highly unlikely, they will be headed to the NIT (should UF receive an invitation).

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