Mike White didn’t need very long to find out if his Gators were ready to get their season going against Gardner Webb. To be precise: he needed four seconds.
Kevarrius Hayes won the opening tip by slapping the ball to Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson. Hudson immediately lofted the ball up to a streaking KeVaughn Allen for the alley-oop. Down the cylinder went the basketball. Up went the fans. And off went Florida.
But as it turned out, the veterans were merely setting the stage for the newcomers.
Gator fans got their first look at Russian born and Israeli grown senior Egor Koulechov, and he could not possibly have left a better first impression. The two time transfer from Arizona State and Rice paced Florida to an easy 116-74 win over Gardner Webb with 34 points, thanks in part to him draining six threes. He had plenty of help from his fellow newcomers, too. Hudson chipped in a healthy 16 points, while freshmen Deaundrae Ballard and Michael Okauru finished with 14 and 13, respectively.
This was Koulechov’s show, though, and he put on a good one.
Gardner Webb actually hung in there for a few minutes, but then Koulechov got hot. The grad transfer knocked down three threes in the span of 1:50 late in the first half to highlight a 27-5 run that put the Bulldogs away. He also showed that he could create his own shot, twice driving into the trees for contested layups and once connecting on a fadeaway midrange jumper.
It’s worth a quick tempering of expectations at this time, and the standard warning not to get too carried away here after one dominant performance over an inferior team. This was Gardner Webb, after all picked to finish fifth in the Big South. Florida will face several teams much tougher than this one, and soon.
And then we’ll really learn what this team is about.