Rice transfer Koulechov shines in debut with No. 8 Florida
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — 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.
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.
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.
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.
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