Florida vs. Baylor score, takeaways: Gators fight behind Riley Kugel but fade late to No. 13 Bears

By OnlyGators.com Staff
November 24, 2023
Florida vs. Baylor score, takeaways: Gators fight behind Riley Kugel but fade late to No. 13 Bears

Image Credit: UAA

Faced with an opportunity to pick up a signature nonconference win, the Florida Gators ultimately fell short Friday night in a 95-91 loss to the No. 13 Baylor Bears at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Florida was hoping to earn a victory in the 2023 NIT Season Tip-Off over the 2021-22 national champions, and while it was undoubtedly game for the showdown, UF did not lead over the final 18:55 of the contest.

The Gators will now regroup with plenty of significant nonconference tests ahead, but this was undoubtedly a lost opportunity to build some much-needed confidence as the holiday season continues.

Let’s take a look at what went down Friday night in the city that never sleeps.

It was over when … junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. missed a 3-pointer with 43 seconds remaining, allowing Baylor to hit free throws and increase its lead enough to put the game away. Fueled by some tremendous paint defense, Florida went on a 7-0 run to tie the contest at 59 with 11 minutes remaining. Baylor erupted from there using a 16-8 scoring stretch, included four 3-pointers, to take an 8-point lead with 6:15 left. The Gators fought back with a triple by Riley Kugel as part of seven straight points by the sophomore guard putting UF down 5 with less than 3 minutes to play, but it would never get closer.

The Gators were largely defeated by two players. Bears stars RayJ Dennis and Jalen Bridges combined for 47 points with Dennis completely dominating the second half, scoring 22 of his 24 total points in the period, including 6 straight during the final 3:44.

First half focus: Though Florida opened with a 7-0 run, Baylor quickly answered with an extended 14-1 scoring stretch to lead 22-14 as UF went ice cold with three missed shots and four turnovers. The Gators fought, scoring seven straight, only for the Bears to immediately respond with a 9-1 run to take a half-high 11-point lead with 6 minutes to play. Florida bounced right back, though, ending the period with a 14-3 stretch to knot it at 41 entering halftime. UF’s defense locked down late with three turnovers as redshirt senior point guard Zyon Pullin led the charge offensively with 11 points. BU notably registered an assist on all 14 of its baskets in the opening 20 minutes.

Exceptional efforts: Kugel bounced back from an extended cold streak to lead the Gators with a career-high 25 points while drilling 4 of 6 triples; he also contributed 9 rebounds and 2 assists. Redshirt senior F Tyrese Samuel continued his efficient play with 16 points on 6 of 7 shooting and 6 rebounds, while Pullin had one of his most impactful games for the Gators with 17 points and 5 assists.

Odds & ends: Florida fell to 1-3 all-time against Baylor and 38-30 when facing Big 12 programs … the Bears won the game from the 3-point line, hitting 14 of 25 triples, while the Gators struggled making just 8 of 26 attempts … Florida did its damage on the fastbreak with a 21-2 scoring edge … UF also once again won the paint battle with edges of 38-33 rebounding and 38-26 scoring down low

Junior G Walter Clayton Jr., who had been the straw that stirred the drink for UF this season, went ice cold with 11 points on 1 of 8 shooting, though he added 6 boards and 4 dimes … Clayton battled through an illness entering the game … junior G Will Richard was similarly inefficient hitting just 1 of 5 attempts from downtown for 6 points … sophomore center Micah Handlogten, who injured his hand early in Wednesday’s win over Pittsburgh, dressed but did not play

What it means: Not to force a positive narrative out of a defeat, but one would have been hard pressed to watch the Gators on Friday night and consider them anything other than one of the top 25 teams in the nation. The problem? The Bears looked like a top-10 team behind Dennis and Bridges. Florida did not do much wrong other than not having its 3-pointers fall. It certainly could have defended the perimeter better, but Baylor’s ball movement was exceptional throughout the contest.

This will likely serve head coach Todd Golden as one of those games that provides tremendous tape the Gators can watch and learn from as the season progresses. Florida’s two losses this season have come by a total of 7 points to two of the sport’s last four national champions.

What’s next? UF will visit Wake Forest on Wednesday as next week’s lone game in the 2023 SEC-ACC Challenge. The Demon Deacons will be the fourth ACC team the Gators face in this nonconference schedule. The game will tip off at 7:15 p.m. ET and air live nationally on ESPNU.

What about the women? Florida will play its third of seven straight games away from home on Wednesday when it visits Georgia Tech on Wednesday as part of the 2023 SEC-ACC Challenge. The game will tip off at 5 p.m. ET and air live nationally on ACC Network.

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