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Rice transfer Egor Koulechov shines in debut with No. 8 Florida

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Former Rice standout Egor Koulechov had no expectations for his Florida debut.

He has some going forward — from everyone around him.

Koulechov scored 34 points, hitting six 3-pointers in his first game as a graduate transfer, and the eighth-ranked Gators handled Gardner-Webb 116-74 in their season opener Monday night.

“He’s got to do that every night,” Florida coach Mike White joked.

Koulechov broke the school record for most points in a debut. Tom Baxley held the previous mark, scoring 32 points against Rick Barry and Miami in 1962. Florida ended up losing that game after Baxley fouled out in overtime.

Koulechov and the Gators had no issues against Gardner-Webb (0-2). Koulechov made all six of his free throws and added five rebounds, five assists and two steals.

But his shooting was the show.

The newcomer nicknamed “Three-gor” finished 11 of 17 from the field, including 6 of 9 from 3-point range. He’s got a quick release and a smooth stroke, and at 6 feet, 5 inches, he’s going to be a handful to defend for smaller guards.

“You’ve got to know where he is at all times,” White said. “He’s a really good shooter. Can we count on him going 6 of 9 every night? Probably not. He did some other good things as well.”

Florida finished with 15 3-points and its most points in a season opener. The Gators hit 10 treys in the first half, including five by Koulechov. He drained consecutive 3s from the corner to put the Gators up 34-19 early and had 23 points — and a bunch of new fans — at the break.

“I’m happy this day kind of came,” Koulechov said. “I’ve been waiting for this since I decided to come here. It’s a great environment, a great program. It’s a lot of fun, especially when you win.”

Koulechov is a key addition in White’s third season, one that began with high expectations after the Gators finished one victory short of making the Final Four in March.

Koulechov, KeVaughn Allen, senior Chris Chiozza and Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson give the Gators their deepest backcourt in years — and enough outside shooting to make them a threat every game.

Chiozza, who sprained his left shoulder in an exhibition game 11 days ago, came off the bench Monday night and looked far from rusty. He finished with five points, six rebounds and six assists in 23 minutes.

Hudson chipped in 16 points, and freshman Mike Okauru added 13.

DJ Laster led the Runnin’ Bulldogs with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

The Gators dominated every aspect of the game and opened up a 40-point lead midway through the second half.

Florida coasted from there and won its 27th consecutive opener.

BIG PICTURE

Gardner-Webb: The Runnin’ Bulldogs got $80,000 to play the game, a nice payday that will help fund the Big South basketball program. Coach Tim Craft will get a better gauge of his team’s ability over the next two weeks.

Florida: The Gators have embraced lofty goals of making another deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and the opener will only raise expectations. With Koulechov, this also could be Florida’s best shooting team since former coach Billy Donovan’s back-to-back title teams.

FAMILIAR FACES

Three former Florida players were on hand for opening night, and one of them did something totally unique.

Swingman Canyon Barry, a graduate transfer from College of Charleston last season and the Southeastern Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year, played a trombone with the Florida band during an early timeout. Barry got a huge ovation after the song. The youngest son of Hall of Famer Rick Barry had been enrolled in a two-year Master of Science program in nuclear engineering.

Former guards Teddy Dupay and Michael Frazier II also were at the game.

UP NEXT

Gardner-Webb concludes its Florida Swing by playing at Central Florida on Wednesday night. The Runnin’ Bulldogs lost by 32 points at 11th-ranked Miami last week.

Florida plays twice more at home over the next six days, beginning against North Florida on Thursday night.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?