Florida lands ‘proven winner’ with St. Bonnies guard Lofton

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida officially signed graduate transfer and St. Bonaventure guard Kyle Lofton on Friday, a potentially huge addition for new coach Todd Golden.

Lofton earned All-Atlantic 10 honors each of the past three seasons while totaling 1,613 points and 604 assists. The 6-foot-3 point guard started 116 games during his four years with the Bonnies, averaging a nation-leading 38.1 minutes a game and shooting 42.1% from the field and 82% from the free-throw line.

“He’s a proven winner and leader,” Golden said. “He makes others around him better and cares only about one thing: winning.”

Lofton should be an upgrade from turnover-prove point guard Tyree Appleby, who transferred for the second time and landed at Wake Forest.

Lofton helped St. Bonaventure reach the NCAA Tournament in 2021, leading the Bonnies with 23 points in the Atlantic 10 championship game.

He joins VMI point guard Trey Bonham, Belmont shooting guard Will Richard and LSU forward Alex Fudge as transfers Golden has lured to Gainesville. They are expected to be the core of the program, along with big man Colin Castleton and guard Kowacie Reeves.

The Gators now have 11 of 13 scholarships filled for next season, with Golden still looking to the transfer portal in hopes of finding frontcourt help and another shooter.

Former LSU forward Fudge transfers to Florida, joins Golden

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Former LSU forward Alex Fudge transferred to Florida, becoming another key building block for new coach Todd Golden.

Fudge, a Jacksonville, Florida, native, averaged 3.3 points and 3.2 rebounds as a freshman with the Tigers last season. The 6-foot-8 Fudge has a 7-foot wingspan and was a four-star prospect. He averaged 17.9 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.7 blocked shots as a senior at Lee High.

“Alex is just scratching the surface in terms of his potential,” Golden said in a statement. “He’s already proven to be an impactful defender that makes winning plays and can guard multiple positions. Offensively, we believe he will make a big jump for us getting out in transition more and playing in the middle of the floor in the half court. We can’t wait to see his growth from his freshman to his sophomore season.”

Fudge joins a roster that includes big man Colin Castleton and rising sophomore Kowacie Reeves. Both players considered leaving Florida after former coach Mike White took the Georgia job, but Golden convinced Castleton and Reeves to remain in Gainesville.

Florida big man, leading scorer Castleton back for 5th year

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida big man Colin Castleton is returning for a fifth season, a huge boost for new coach Todd Golden.

Castleton, a 6-foot-11 forward from nearby DeLand who transferred to Florida after two years at Michigan, led the Gators in scoring and rebounding last season. He averaged 16.2 points and 9.0 rebounds despite playing nearly the final dozen games with a torn labrum that will require surgery. He also finished second in the Southeastern Conference with 62 blocked shots.

Castleton recorded 10 double-doubles and was eighth in the league in scoring, third in rebounding and fourth in field-goal percentage.

“The past couple weeks have helped me reflect on the season, as well as give me time to decide what’s next for my future,” Castleton said in a social media post Monday. “Thank you to my family and everyone who has helped me make this decision. Everyone’s process is different, and I’m adding another chapter to mine.

“Gator Nation, I’m back!”

Castleton missed six games after injuring his left shoulder during practice in mid-January but returned in hopes of helping the Gators make the NCAA Tournament; they fell short and ended up in the NIT. Castleton is expected to have surgery in the coming weeks to repair the damage and should be ready in time for summer workouts.

His return gives the Gators seven scholarship players back from the 2021-22 roster, including Kowacie Reeves, Myreon Jones, CJ Felder, Jason Jitoboh, Niels Lane and Eli Kennedy.

Three others opted to move on. Forward Anthony Duruji entered the NBA draft. Point guard Tyree Appleby, the team’s second-leading scorer, and forward Tuongthach Gatkek entered the transfer portal. Others still could join them there.

Golden and his staff hosted several potential transfers over the past week, expecting some of them to fill roster holes. Florida also has two incoming freshman signees: forward Jalen Reed and guard Denzel Aberdeen.

Florida big man, leading scorer Castleton back for 5th year

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida big man Colin Castleton is returning for a fifth season, a huge boost for new coach Todd Golden.

Castleton, a 6-foot-11 forward from nearby DeLand who transferred to Florida after two years at Michigan, led the Gators in scoring and rebounding last season. He averaged 16.2 points and 9.0 rebounds despite playing nearly the final dozen games with a torn labrum that will require surgery. He also finished second in the Southeastern Conference with 62 blocked shots.

Castleton recorded 10 double-doubles and was eighth in the league in scoring, third in rebounding and fourth in field-goal percentage.

“The past couple weeks have helped me reflect on the season, as well as give me time to decide what’s next for my future,” Castleton said in a social media post Monday. “Thank you to my family and everyone who has helped me make this decision. Everyone’s process is different, and I’m adding another chapter to mine.

“Gator Nation, I’m back!”

Castleton missed six games after injuring his left shoulder during practice in mid-January but returned in hopes of helping the Gators make the NCAA Tournament; they fell short and ended up in the NIT. Castleton is expected to have surgery in the coming weeks to repair the damage and should be ready in time for summer workouts.

His return gives the Gators seven scholarship players back from the 2021-22 roster, including Kowacie Reeves, Myreon Jones, CJ Felder, Jason Jitoboh, Niels Lane and Eli Kennedy.

Three others opted to move on. Forward Anthony Duruji entered the NBA draft. Point guard Tyree Appleby, the team’s second-leading scorer, and forward Tuongthach Gatkek entered the transfer portal. Others still could join them there.

Golden and his staff hosted several potential transfers over the past week, expecting some of them to fill roster holes. Florida also has two incoming freshman signees: forward Jalen Reed and guard Denzel Aberdeen.

Tshiebwe shines again, No. 7 Kentucky beats Florida 71-63

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When Florida scored the first five points of the second half, Kentucky coach John Calipari immediately called timeout. He had one message for his seventh-ranked Wildcats: Throw Oscar Tshiebwe the ball.

They listened better than even Calipari could have imagined.

Tshiebwe finished with 27 points and 15 rebounds – his 13th consecutive double-double and 25th of the season – and Kentucky beat Florida 71-63 on Saturday to secure the No. 3 seed in next week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament.

“You be the star the next game,” Calipari told his guys.

This one belonged to Tshiebwe, who scored Kentucky’s next 11 points after Calipari called that timeout and took over. He helped the Wildcats (25-6, 14-4 SEC) end a two-game road skid in league play and win their fourth straight in Gainesville.

They never trailed thanks mostly to Tshiebwe. The 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward and national player of the year candidate scored 17 of Kentucky’s 19 points over a 7 1/2-minute stretch spanning halftime. He responded with a dunk in the first half after Florida cut a 16-point lead to six and was at his best after the break.

The junior scored the team’s first 11 points of the second half – all in the paint while almost single-handily building a double-digit lead for the Wildcats.

And when the Gators (19-12, 9-9) made another run late, Tshiebwe answered with a layup to make it a 10-point game with about 3 minutes to play.

Long before then, he already had locked up another double-double. His 25th leaves him one shy of the school record set by Dan Issel in the 1969-70 season.

“The things that he’s doing haven’t been been done in 50 years,” Calipari said, repeating the line for effect.

Tshiebwe made 11 of 16 shots and was perfect in five trips to the free-throw line. He added two blocks and three steals, including one that led to a three-point play.

“Sometimes I can’t believe what I’m doing,” Tshiebwe said. “How? This is impossible. I’m in college and everybody can play. … The confidence right now is at a different level.”

Sahvir Wheeler added 13 points for the visitors, and Kellan Grady chipped in 11.

Colin Castleton led the Gators with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Anthony Duriji added 10 points in his return from an ankle injury that sidelined him two games.

The Gators had hoped a sold-out home finale and senior day would provide extra motivation against one of the league’s top teams. But not even Keyontae Johnson’s somewhat return to the court helped.

Johnson, who collapsed during a game in December 2020 and hasn’t practiced or played since, got a ceremonial start. Johnson was on the floor for the first of two opening tips and left to a standing ovation after kissing the floor.

Calipari was among the thousands clapping and even hugged Johnson as he checked out of the game. Johnson changed back into street clothes and assumed his usual spot on the bench.

“Unique, weird, special day,” Florida coach Mike White said. “Obviously, Keyontae’s situation is a unique situation.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Kentucky could move back into the top five in next week’s Associated Press men’s college basketball poll, depending on what happens later Saturday.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: Don’t count the Wildcats out of getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. There’s no doubt they have the depth and talent to win the league tournament in Tampa, which could push them ahead of Auburn for one of the four top seeds.

Florida: The Gators will need to win two or three games in the SEC Tournament to make a fifth consecutive NCAA field. It’s a big ask for a team that has been so inconsistent all season.

UP NEXT

Kentucky gets an extended break before opening play in the SEC Tournament on Friday.

Florida will play Thursday in the tournament and likely needs a deep run to make the NCAA field.

No. 23 Florida rallies, edges Vandy women at SEC tourney

Mark Zaleski/ For The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nina Rickards hit two free throws with 8.2 seconds left, and No. 23 Florida rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat Vanderbilt 53-52 Thursday afternoon in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

The Gators (21-9) snapped a three-game skid and now will play No. 4 seed Mississippi on Friday in the quarterfinals.

Florida came in seeded fifth, its highest since 2016. The Gators seemed headed for a quick exit until the fourth quarter when they turned in a furious 20-8 rally. Their one and only lead of the game came on Rickards’ first trip to the line.

Vanderbilt (14-18) scored the first 12 points of the game and led by as much as 14 late in the third quarter looking for a second straight victory at a tournament where they hadn’t won even once since 2016.

Sacha Washington missed both free throws with a chance to pad Vanderbilt’s lead with 11.9 seconds remaining. After Rickards’ free throws, Jordyn Merritt blocked Vanderbilt guard Iyana Moore’s layup. The Gators started celebrating before officials sent them to the bench for a review.

The officials added 0.4 to the clock, and Florida guard Jeriah Warren got a hand on the inbound pass to seal the Gators’ comeback.

Rickards finished with 15 points for Florida, and Zippy Broughton added 14.

Brinae Alexander led Vanderbilt with 18 points. Moore added with 16. Jordyn Cambridge went 1-of-11 and finished with four points after turning in the first triple-double in program history in Wednesday’s tourney opener.

Vanderbilt led 16-12 at the end of the first quarter. Florida tied it only once at 18 on a layup by Merritt with 5:44 left in the second quarter, but the Commodores led 31-22 at halftime. The Commodores led 44-33 after the third quarter.