GAINESVILLE, Fla. – No. 20 Florida has been a dangerous 3-point shooting team all season, but the Gators took it to another level against Baylor in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
The Gators liberally spread around their 3-point shooting as they drained 14 of 25 to romp to an 81-60 win over the Bears on Saturday afternoon at the O’Connell Center.
The loss was Baylor’s first in the Big 12/SEC Challenge after winning the last four seasons. With their third straight loss in the last eight days, the Bears fell to 12-9 overall heading into Tuesday’s game against No. 12 Oklahoma in Norman.
“The tough thing is when you’re trying to get on a winning streak the doctor doesn’t say go on the road and play Top 25 teams,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew in his postgame radio interview. “So much is timing and we got them on the wrong day because they hit some tough shots.”
Florida’s guards were as good as advertised as Chris Chiozza hit four of seven 3-pointers and scored 20 points, Jalen Hudson drained four of six 3-pointers and scored 17, Egor Koulechov hit all three of his 3-point shots and finished with 16 points, and KeVaughn Allen hit two of four treys and scored 10 points.
The Gators (15-6) shot 56 percent from 3-point range and 51.9 percent overall, marking the second straight game that Baylor’s defense has been torched. Kansas State shot 57 percent in Monday’s 90-83 win at the Ferrell Center.
With the Bears shooting just 40 percent, they couldn’t stick with Florida, which led the game from start to finish.
“It was disappointing that we had great looks early and didn’t score,” Drew said. “You can defend all you want, but at the end of the day you’ve got to score. I thought we did some things better, but we didn’t put the ball in the hole.”
Terry Maston gave the Bears a lift off the bench with 14 points while Mark Vital scored 11 and Manu Lecomte 10. Vital appeared to twist his left ankle as he was diving for a loose ball in the closing minutes, but an update on his health wasn’t available after the game.
The Gators charged out of the gate by burying five 3-pointers to open up a 20-7 lead with 13:40 left in the first half. Koulechov drained three 3-pointers in the opening minutes before Keith Stone and Hudson nailed treys. The Bears never recovered from Florida’s early onslaught.
The Bears finally got some offense going when Tristan Clark scored on a dunk, drew a foul and hit a free throw. Clark got inside for another basket and Jake Lindsey hit Vital for a slam.
But the Gators kept hitting 3-pointers as Chiozza drained three to extend Florida’s lead to 37-22 with 4:55 left in the first half.
Baylor cut Florida’s lead to 40-31 with Vital’s layup, but Allen drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Gators a 43-31 halftime lead. The Gators nailed nine of 12 3-point attempts in the first half.
The second half started out much like the first as Hudson and Chiozza nailed 3-pointers. But Maston kept the Bears in the game by scoring 12 straight points to cut Florida’s lead to 58-48.
Baylor couldn’t stop Florida’s prolific scoring as the Gators went on a 17-3 run. Hudson was the catalyst as he drained a pair of 3-pointers before Allen buried a trey to give the Gators a 75-51 lead with 4:15 remaining.
“When Florida got the separation, it’s hard to come back against a team that can get in spurts like that,” Drew said. “When you lose a couple of games, you start to loose confidence.”
The Bears have 10 regular season games remaining and know they need to pull things together quickly to have a shot to make their fifth straight NCAA tournament.
“The good thing is we’re going to keep tinkering with things until we can figure some things out,” Drew said. “If we keep getting good looks, they’re going to go in at some point.”