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Florida’s head coach talks about Gators’ big win over Arkansas

Florida basketball bounced back from two early Southeastern Conference losses with a 90-68 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks inside the O’Connell Center on Saturday afternoon. The victory marks a massive swing from the brutal defeat the team sustained in Oxford against the Ole Miss Rebels on Wednesday.

It was a complete effort from the Orange and Blue, with the team’s collective foot on the gas pedal for all 40 minutes. Todd Golden’s gang greatly benefitted from a breakout game from guard Rily Kugel, who led all scorers with 20 points along with five boards in 27 minutes played.

After the win, Golden spoke with the media about his team and how they have overcome adversity this season. Take a look below at what he had to offer.

Opening statement

Doug Engle/Ocala Star Banner
Doug Engle/Ocala Star Banner

I just wanted to say how much I appreciated the fans today. My goodness, it was an incredible environment.

You know after a tough start in the league fans can become fickle but our fans were not that and they did an incredible job of being present, being loud and (giving us) one of the best homecourt advantages in college basketball here in Gainesville.

I’m grateful for the way they supported our guys today, I’m proud of the way our guys responded but I just want to make sure our fans know how much I appreciate them today.

On Todd Golden's "pleasant" mood

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

More than pleasant my friend — it was a hell of a weekend, and just again really proud it was an opportunity where I knew we’d learn a lot about our team and learn a lot about our guys.

I feel pretty confident in saying we have a pretty good team but we had nothing to show for it in conference play so far. You are what your record is and the way we responded today, obviously got off to a great start in the areas where I was really proud were the two areas that we addressed all week after Kentucky and then after Ole Miss is we’ve got to play better in the second half.

We’ve got to go out and run to the fight instead of trying in this situation to hang on to the lead which I thought we didn’t do in the second half against Kentucky and we had to really improve our second-half defense, that was an area that has really been an issue of us during the course of the year.

We held them to 36% in the second half, only one made 3, I thought that was really big growth from our guys and our program, and this is our most complete performance of the year today.

On Riley Kugel's breakout performance

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Most certainly. He like I told you guys yesterday, we met, made sure we had a good understanding of what the expectations were moving forward, and it was just kind of a re-set, a re-calibration, and it was needed.

It happens man, it’s a long season, things can go up, they can go down, but the reality is we’re not the best versions of ourselves unless Riley Kugel is playing well. You guys can see with your own eyes today, the way he attacked the game, you can tell from the jump, that this guy was going to have a good effort, a good night and he just played incredibly well.

You know, the offense was really good but he continues when locked in like that, to be an elite defender, plus-21 in the game in 26 minutes really efficient offensively, and when he plays like that our ceiling gets a lot higher.

Talk about Kugels mindset coming off the bench

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

You know, we all need to be that way probably and this is a stressful profession, a stressful business you know not only for us as coaches but for the players. There’s generally a lot of expectations and a lot of things that each of us, whether it’s coaches are players, deal with that people don’t see on a daily basis.

Again I felt great after we met on Thursday because I felt like we were back, centered and had a really good understanding of what needed to happen, and like I told you guys, I thought he played well and he sure as heck did it today.

Tyrese Samuel and Will Richard also responded with big games

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

For sure, you know, ‘Rese, 17 and 11 – goodness, we’ve been missing that, you know. And, again, ‘Rese is one of our best guys, right, so when he plays like that.

And then Will. You know, I thought, the funny thing is I thought Will played well against Kentucky with the exception of the shooting, you know, he just didn’t make some shots, and then sometimes the only thing I can do as a player is shoot threes, you’re going to miss some that are good shots.

You’ve got to have that mental toughness to push through. I thought he did a really good job hunting his threes today while also playing well on the defensive end. Both of those guys played really, really well tonight.

How watching a veteran player go through a slump can help younger players

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

When guys play really well, it’s hard not to take for granted a little bit, you know. (Tyrese) was getting us double figures and double-doubles, you know, pretty consistently through the month of December and it was like ‘Wow, “Rese is going to give you 15 and 10”, you know.

That’s a hard thing to expect for any human being to be that consistent in that way, but we felt it when he didn’t do that, and for as well as Alex and as well as Tommy play off the bench, we need ‘Rese and Micah to be good for us to be the best we can be. But, like I said, it’s a long season.

We played on the road a lot in the preseason, ups and downs, and I think the key, especially in this league – and I actually talked to Jimmy Dykes about this yesterday – he was like, you just can’t let a bad loss bleed into and set in. That’s the key in this league: you’ve got to be able to bounce back.

You’re gonna lose games, and this is the second-best league in America, there’s plenty of top-25 teams, tough environments to play, and the fact that we were able to come back and play the way we did after that game at Ole Miss, which was definitely our worst effort of the year, I think says a lot about the character of the guys in our program.

What clicked for the Gators on defense against Arkansas?

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve been a good first-half defensively except the Ole Miss game, so I felt good we’d come out and play that way, you know, first half. In the second half, I just thought our communication was much better, I thought our ball-screen coverage was much better, and over the course of both halves I thought our ability to get to 50-50 balls was the best today that it’s been all year.

ZP started by getting on the floor early for one, Will and ‘Rese, Riley got a huge one in front of our bench, and those are just such momentum plays, and the way I think about those, it’s a point. Every time you get one of those it’s a point, and we definitely won the 50-50 battle tonight, another area that improved. We shot the ball well from the line, 15-for-20, you know, we didn’t leave a lot of points on the board.

How the Hogs' zone defense affected his game plan

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Yeah honestly we didn’t prepare for it much, but I feel good about our zone attack. I think our personnel is good for zone.

We have good, intelligent frontcourt players that are skilled and can pass and can read and make decisions, and you know we’ve got enough guys that can shoot it to where you have to be mindful of where Will, Walt, ZP, Riley are on the perimeter. So sometimes it catches you off-guard, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a successful way to guard us for 40 minutes.

Maybe it can steal a possession or two here or there, but, you know, the biggest key – and we didn’t do a good job early when we saw the zone – is you can’t turn the ball over. You know, you can’t turn the ball over, we did that a couple times, but in the second half we were pretty clean against the zone with no turnovers.

On watching Kugel fight through adversity

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

As corny as it sounds, man, it’s probably the best part of coaching, you know?

Obviously, winning is what we get judged and evaluated on, but the way he responded was the best he has done in his career after a tough moment, and to me that’s growth. To me that’s a real relationship, it’s not always going to be great, but that’s OK. But the respect level is there, and I want him to be super, super successful, he wants me to be super, super successful, he wants the team to be super, super successful.

And, we were joking a little bit – I shouldn’t say joking – when he hit that crazy shot-clock three, and I just went up to him and said “That’s the basketball gods right there, brother.”

We got back right, we got back right, and they took care of us on that possession, and those things tend to go your way a little more when your mentality is good, and I thought our team – and not just Riley – but our whole team was a little beaten up after the Kentucky and Ole Miss games. But we responded the right way.

We had a really good practice yesterday, and, you know, going into today, I felt good. I felt more comfortable, less anxious, because I thought our team was in a really good place, and I thought we showed that today.

How the Ole Miss loss motivates him and his team

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Coming home was really big, you know, getting back in front of our home crowd was huge. Listen,  our team played really well all year, you know, and we had two tough games, I thought we played well against Kentucky, we just didn’t win. Ole Miss was probably, like I said, our worst effort of the year.

But I think this is just our team. I think our team is good. And I think we have the ability to play well, even after a loss. We, for the most part, are pretty mature in the way we approach practice on a daily basis.

So, I don’t necessarily think it was being pissed or you know, I think it was just, “Hey, like, let’s be consistent in our approach and make sure we go out there and compete the right way today.”

Talking about Florida keeping a full effort for 40 minutes

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

It’s everything. You know, for us, that’s been our Achilles heel a little bit, even in our wins it’s getting off to a good start to a certain first half and then guarding it in the second half.

And, as I mentioned earlier, I think we address both those things really well. And to go plus nine in the second half in that game and hold them to 33 in the first, 35 in the second is growth for our program.

Talk about Kugel's effort and how that translates to the rest of the team

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that’s what had been happening through out-of-conference play where the offense maybe wasn’t there, wasn’t that efficient, but whether it was you know, guarding Dug McDaniel through moments in the Michigan game or guarding Jordan King in the Richmond game, putting him on to the chase best perimeter scorer, that’s not in the the box score.

But those are things the coaching staff thinks are certainly valuable. Tonight, he did it in all phases. I thought he was more active on the glass, only had two, but was doing a good job, in that regard. Did a good job taking care of the ball and he played a complete game tonight, for sure.

How the win will carry over to the next opponent

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Not getting too high. You know, just like we didn’t get too low after the Ole Miss game. Understanding that we’re going to need to play as well as our preparation, you know, and I thought that was a big part of our game today. We prepared very well yesterday.

And this is going to be a bear on Tuesday night. You know, it was another reason as to why this game was so important. You know, you definitely didn’t want to go into Knoxville 0-3 in league play. But, you know, every game on the road in this league is just a beast.

And, you know, I know they snuck it out today, right? They got it they were down, 15-1 game to end the game, right? They know how to win, you know, they know how to win. They got an old, mature team.

I was driving up, looked at the score, and saw that they were down like eight, and I was like, “Wow.” Then, I had staff running in telling me that Tennessee ended up winning. I couldn’t believe it. You know, they’re used to winning. They’re a really the program and a big key for me in this game is we got to we got to play much better than we did at Ole Miss.

We got to go on the road, play with poise, not let the environment take our team over and take care of the ball and just do the winning things that we do today.

Next up

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Florida returns to the road to take on the Tennessee Volunteers inside Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Tuesday, Jan. 16. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. ET and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Read more

Five takeaways from Florida basketball’s win over Arkansas Razorbacks

PHOTOS: Highlights from Florida basketball’s win vs Arkansas

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Story originally appeared on Gators Wire