GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Through two and a half seasons at Florida, KeVaughn Allen has reinforced two defining qualities about his game.
When he’s in the zone and dialed in, he can put on an offensive showcase like few others, whether it’s raining 3s from all over the perimeter or using his athleticism to drive to the basket and make plays at the rim.
But getting him to morph into that mode, to assert himself with the aggressiveness needed to take over a game for such stretches, is the challenging conflicting element to his basketball make-up.
“He’s not aggressive enough,” Gators coach Mike White reiterated yet again this week. “I’ve been saying that to him for two and a half years, to you guys and to him. He’s very, very conscientious. He misses a couple shots and he’s a very good teammate, I think he just starts wondering about [whether] the next shot should go to someone else, and he needs to get those thoughts out of his head. If he’s open, he needs to shoot it with confidence.”
White has been both Allen’s biggest supporter — trying to find every which way to inject that confidence into his sharpshooter and let him know it’s OK to be a gunner from the outside — and also a consistent source of public accountability, willing to make such pointed and candid comments to reporters presumably with the intent of getting Allen’s attention.
Things are going good right now for the Gators (11-4, 3-0 SEC), who have won their first three conference games with a mix of rejuvenated offense and a little grit.
But White also knows his team could be even better if Allen can find his rhythm.
A preseason first-team All-SEC selection, Allen is averaging a career-low 11.1 points per game and just 8 PPG over his last four contests. He’s been held to less than 10 points in eight of Florida’s 15 games and is struggling to find his shot.
After shooting 37 percent from 3-point range last season (78 of 211), Allen is shooting a career-low 29.5 percent (23 of 78) from the perimeter so far.
He seemed to take a step in the right direction in the Gators’ SEC opener against Vanderbilt when he dropped in 16 points and hit 2 of 3 3-pointers, but he followed with just 7 points at Texas A&M (1 of 5 from the outside) and 2 points on 1-of-5 shooting overall Saturday at Missouri while playing just 19 minutes.
That Florida is winning with a preseason All-SEC selection taking a limited supporting role speaks well of the team’s depth, but White knows to reach the Gators’ top-end potential they need to find a way to maximize Allen’s full abilities.
“We’ve got to get KeVaughn going. Somehow we’ve got to get him going,” White said. “It’s another thing that gives you a little bit of confidence moving forward. We’re playing our best basketball right now and that doesn’t mean anything for Wednesday night of course, but to be playing your best basketball right now and you’ve got an all-league guy who is not hitting on all cylinders gives you some confidence that if we can get him going, maybe that’s our ceiling, of course. And then of course we’ve got to continue to get better defensively.”
Allen could be key for the Gators on Wednesday night at home against Mississippi State (13-2, 1-1) as senior point guard Chris Chiozza has strep throat and is uncertain to play. Chiozza has given Florida a boost on the offensive end with seven straight games scoring in double figures, while also operating as the team’s primary ball-handler over his team-high 31.7 minutes per game this season.
Allen would see a larger share of the point guard duties if Chiozza can’t play.
Meanwhile, though, Allen’s struggles have also been offset by the strong play of newcomers Jalen Hudson (team-high 16.9 points per game) and Egor Koulechov (15.0) and the recent offensive emergence of redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone (15.5 PPG over the last two contests).
White suggested that Allen’s instinctive unselfishness on the court has been further magnified by the presence of other high-volume scorers this season, but he’d like to see the junior guard look for his shot nonetheless.
After all, this is the same guy who scored 35 points in Florida’s Sweet 16 victory over Wisconsin last year and who had eight 20-point games overall as a sophomore.
“He’s a terrific player, he’s had huge games here and some of it is, in his defense, it’s a different role for him where he’s trying to fit in as opposed to, ‘I need to get 15 shots up for us to have a chance to even win this game,'” White said. “He’s had some of those games in the past and that’s been more of his role for those couple teams, so he’s learning and they’re learning, his teammates are learning how to play with him. Again, we’re not hitting on all cylinders, but we’re hoping we can get there. It starts today, hopefully we can get him going today in practice and hopefully it’ll carry over to Wednesday.”