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Florida's 2016-17 season under second-year head coach Mike White came to a close last Sunday with a 77-70 loss to South Carolina in the Elite Eight, putting the wraps on a highly successful year for the Gators that saw them finish 27-9 (14-4 SEC) and earn their fifth trip to the Elite Eight in the past seven seasons.
Before we move forward, ITG recaps the season with superlatives.
Most impressive win: Two in particular stand out here. First is Florida's 88-66 victory over Kentucky, then ranked No. 8 in the AP poll, on Feb. 4 in the O'Connell Center. In that contest, the Gators held the Wildcats to just 37.7% shooting while Florida shot 48.4% from the field (and 66.7% in the second half). Behind Kasey Hill's 21 points and six assists, the Gators snapped a five-game losing streak to the Wildcats that dated back to White's first season with the program.
The other co-winner is Florida's 65-39 victory over Virginia in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Orlando on March 18. The Cavaliers played more minutes than points scored, shooting just 29.6% from the field and a dreadful 1-of-15 from downtown against a tenacious Gators defense. Meanwhile, Florida shot 46% (and 38.1% from three-point range), riding a 21-0 run fueled by 14 points from Justin Leon to take a commanding lead over Virginia by the start of the second half.
Most exciting win: It's without a doubt Florida's 84-83 overtime victory over Wisconsin from last Friday in New York City, once that saw junior point guard Chris Chiozza become a part of Gators lore when he knocked down a running three as the buzzer sounded to send the Gators to the Elite Eight. Florida led for much of the second half but saw a 12-point lead evaporate once Badgers guard Zak Showalter tied the game up at 72-72 with seconds remaining on a running three of his own. There were plenty of momentum swings throughout regulation and in overtime, but thanks to Chiozza the Gators came out on top.
Most frustrating loss: This is a hard one to choose. A road loss to South Carolina in January where the Gators went 0-of-17 from three is up there, while two two-point losses to Vanderbilt in the regular season plus an SEC Tournament defeat to Vandy where both teams went to overtime and the 'Dores outscored the Gators 14-4 in extra time was maddening for the Florida fan base.
However, we'll go with No. 4 seed Florida's 77-70 loss to No. 7 seed South Carolina from last Sunday, just due to the stakes and circumstances. It was a heck of a game, with both teams trading punches throughout and keeping it close until the very end. Eventually, Florida fell out of rhythm offensively - the Gators shot 0-of-14 from downtown in the final 20 minutes after going 7-of-12 in the first half - and South Carolina pulled away. It was a game the Gators could have very well won, but too many offensive miscues late put them in a difficult position to do so.
MVP: As was often the case this year, as KeVaughn Allen went, so did Florida. The sophomore guard was Florida's top scorer and overall performer this past season, finishing with a team-best 14 points per game on 43.8% shooting (37% from three). The biggest challenge for Allen was consistently staying aggressive on offense - and when Allen wasn't hesitant to take shots, the Gators' fortunes were often good. Allen scored 20-plus points on eight occasions this year, including against Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 where he set a career-high in scoring with 35 points on 11-of-24 shooting (9-of-10 on free throws).
Most pleasant surprise throughout 2016-17: Many figured Canyon Barry, as a graduate transfer out of the College of Charleston, would end up being a helpful piece to the rotation as an offseason pickup. However, he exceeded expectations and blossomed into the SEC's sixth man of the year this season, finishing second on the team with 11.4 points per game. His underhanded free throw shooting, a form he inherited from his father Rick Barry, maybe was the biggest eye-opener. He shot 88.3% from the charity stripe, at one point breaking a school record with 42 consecutive made free throws.
Most improved from 2015-16 to this season: Hill's first three seasons as a Gator were a mostly up-and-down affair, but he truly turned it around as a senior. Hill certainly still had his erratic moments, but overall he finished with his best campaign as a Gator, with 9.7 points, a team-high 4.5 assists per game and 1.7 steals per game as Florida's starting point guard. Following the regular season, he was honored with a spot on the All-SEC defensive team.
Biggest midseason improvement: During the first half of the year, Chiozza struggled mightily with his shot. Through Florida's first 19 games, Chiozza went just 28-of-84 (33.3%) from the field and 10-of-44 (22.7%) from downtown. He eventually turned it around on that end, shooting 46.6% (and 38.5% from three) in his last 17 appearances. He also amped up his efforts on the glass and continued to be an aggressive defender, finishing the season with solid averages for a guard in assists (3.8 APG), rebounds (3.3 RPG) and steals (1.3 SPG). Chiozza was a key piece in Florida's NCAA Tournament, memorably making "The Shot" that'll go down as one of the best buzzer-beaters in school history.
Most disappointing moment: Although the Gators eventually rallied and advanced to the Elite Eight, losing center John Egbunu on February 14 at Auburn to a torn ACL was a big blow. The Gators lost their top rebounder and frontcourt defender, struggling to find a player who could truly replace what the 6-foot-11, 255-pound big man brought to the table. Kevarrius Hayes and Gorjok Gak were among those who stepped in nicely later on in the year, but neither could clog driving lanes or protect the rim like the big, physical Egbunu.
Best individual performance: There are a number of candidates for this distinction. The first that comes to the mind of many is Allen's 35-point outing against Wisconsin, where the sophomore guard went 11-of-24 from the field (although just 4-of-12 on threes) and made nine of 10 free throw attempts. Another notable performance was Chiozza's rare triple-double against Missouri on Feb. 2, where he logged 12 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Devin Robinson's performance against ETSU in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament was also huge, as he recorded 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting and seven rebounds in his best game of the season.
Biggest late-season surprise: Two storylines in particular stand out here. The first is Robinson's strong outings in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Against East Tennessee State and Virginia, the junior forward erupted for 38 points on 15-of-25 shooting (60%) to go along with 18 rebounds. Another surprise was the efficient play of freshman center Gorjok Gak, who provided the Gators with quality minutes in the interior during the Big Dance. In the NCAA Tournament, Gak combined for 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting and nine rebounds in 32 minutes on the court.
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