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UF guard Riley Kugel’s no-show at Ole Miss could be wake-up call for Gators’ star

GAINESVILLE — Florida shooting guard Riley Kugel‘s O-fer at Ole Miss highlighted the Gators’ one-sided no-show Wednesday night.

The 20-year-old’s scoreless effort during just four minutes of UF’s humbling 103-85 loss was the low point of an inconsistent and at times head-scratching season for a sophomore who entered 2023-24 poised to become a star.

While the season had not gone as expected for Kugel, a former Dr. Phillips standout and state champion, it went off the rails in Oxford to spur a serious conversation Friday with second-year coach Todd Golden.

“Riley and I were just not on the same page the day of the game against Ole Miss,” Golden said. “We met. We had a great conversation. We’re back on the same page.

“I expect him to play really well tomorrow, and that’s really the depth that I’m going to go into it.”

The Gators (10-5, 0-2 SEC) are going to need an about-face from Kugel to get on track after stumbling to start SEC play. Arkansas (9-6, 0-2) visits the O’Connell Center Saturday equally desperate to avoid opening league play with three straight losses.

UF will need all hands on deck against the Razorbacks. But a re-awakening by Kugel would have long-term implications for the Gators and a player with NBA potential yet damaging his draft stock halfway through the season.

The 6-foot-5, 207-pound Kugel possesses eye-popping physical tools, leading Golden to recently proclaim, “He’s one of the best athletes in college basketball — that’s for certain.”

Kugel awes even teammate and roommate Walter Clayton Jr., a highly recruited defensive back during high school in Lake Wales.

“I see it every day. What he’s doing is phenomenal — like one of a kind,” Clayton said. “That’s just something you are born with, so he’s got that.”

Kugel’s showcased his wares during a season-ending flourish to his freshman season. After averaging 18.3 points during the final eight games, he pondered turning professional.

The increased spotlight required an adjustment, he admitted last month.

“It’s just change,” Kugel said. “My whole life I’m not used to change, so it’s just another change in my life.”

Kugel’s struggle to adapt has led to wildly inconsistent play. He scored at least 23 points three times during the first seven games but 5 points or fewer during three of the past five outings.

Golden suspects a goose egg at Ole Miss will be Kugel’s wake-up call.

“We talked about it a lot, in terms of trying to find his sweet spot and comfortability,” Golden said. “He’s not all the way there yet, but he’s not the only one. Yesterday was good for us. We covered a lot of things and I do expect him to play really well going forward.”

Edgar Thompson can be reached at egthompson@orlandosentinel.com