Florida basketball: KeVaughn Allen's return to form sparks confidence heading into SEC tournament
All season long, Florida coach Mike White has heard anxious questions regarding the underwhelming and inconsistent play of KeVaughn Allen.
Sometimes, he's been the one asking them.
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No, this season has been much more of a grind for the junior guard, who was named first team All-SEC by the league's coaches last season after leading the Gators with 14.0 points per game as a sophomore.
But as No. 23 Florida begins SEC tournament play as the third seed in Friday night's quarterfinals, Allen is showing signs that his best performances may be yet to come this season.
White credited Allen for being "as good as he's ever been" during an 80-67 victory over Kentucky on Saturday, when he filled up the box score with 11 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals.
That effort continued what has been a solid couple of weeks for Allen since he was held scoreless during a loss to Tennessee on Feb. 21, his first game without points since January of his freshman season.
In three ensuing games, Allen is averaging 16 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists — an uptick in statistics that has coincided with some of Florida's best execution all season.
More importantly, Allen has been more efficient. He is shooting 44.4 percent during that stretch with only four turnovers.
On the season, the 6-2 guard is third on the team in scoring at 11.3 points per game while averaging 2.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
"He didn't score it a ton on Saturday, but, man, did he play well," White said. "He really, really played well. Passed it well, was really aggressive and guarded at a really high level."
That last part is what has White feeling especially good about his team regardless of its opponent Friday and looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament.
White warned his players they needed to be better defensively despite a strong start to non-conference play that included an excellent showing at the Phil Knight Invitational in November.
We've got just the right GIFs to share during the #SECTourney.— Gators Men’s Basketball (@GatorsMBK) March 8, 2018
Click "GIF" and search for #GatorsMBK or visit our official https://t.co/rVP1sUQ62D page: https://t.co/unqqGxyCVF pic.twitter.com/Z9fhZkSFOQ
As the road became bumpier for the Gators — they lost three straight during separate stints in November/December and February — White continued to harp on the need for more intensity and focus on that end.
The Gators finally responded to his liking late in the season and finished as the SEC's stingiest defense in league play, allowing 66.4 points per game.
"Early on in the year, heck, we're scoring 110 or what have you, but we're giving up 100, and we were horrible defensively," White said. "And now we're a top-20 defense. We finished second in our league in defensive efficiency in league games. These guys came a long way."
Said senior guard Chris Chiozza, who was named to the SEC's All-Defensive Team: "We finally found our roles and embraced them. We're just doing a good job of playing harder than we were and playing defense the whole game. If we can't score, we're not going to let the other team score either."
One other thing the Gators won't be doing: Talking about the PK80 tournament, when they beat Stanford and Gonzaga before blowing a late lead and falling to Duke in the title game. That showing vaulted Florida to No. 5 in the country and generated early talk of a Final Four run.
Several weeks ago, White decided his players needed to move on from that success and instructed his assistants not to mention "PK80" in front of the team. Really, it was a mandate.
White's hope was his players would be able to catch their breath and believe their best basketball was still ahead. After three straight victories to end the regular season, White seems to have gotten what he wanted.
"It took a long time, but we learned how to play together," White said. "I wish it didn't take this long, but I'm really pleased with how we're playing right now."
This article is written by Phillip Heilman from The Florida Times-Union and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.