DALLAS — Four years ago, Egor Koulechov was a freshman at Arizona State when the Sun Devils lost a heart-breaker to Texas in their NCAA Tournament opener.
Koulechov didn’t play in that 87-85 loss, which doesn’t make the memory any better.
Four years and two schools later, the graduate transfer returned to college basketball’s spotlight stage Thursday night with Florida, scoring a game-high 20 points to lead the No. 6-seeded Gators past No. 11 St. Bonaventure, 77-62.
“A lot better. A lot better. I was hoping not to have another bad one,” Koulechov said of his second taste of the tournament. “This is like four years later. I mean, that’s what I wanted when I came here. We’re obviously not done, still hopefully a lot of basketball to be played, but this team, the coaching staff, they’ve been awesome. It’s just the whole experience, just even not from the NCAA Tournament, just the whole year. It’s been amazing.”
Koulechov, who joined Florida as a transfer from Rice before this season, ranks second on the team in scoring at 13.8 points per game and leads the Gators in rebounding at 6.5 per game. A 6-foot-5 guard playing through plantar fasciitis, he’s taken everything this season has thrown at him, including many a defensive mismatch against on opposing big man when Florida has lacked other options.
He’s been an impact addition who has helped shape this Gators season positively, but Koulechov had scuffled a bit down the stretch.
He had three games of 8 points or fewer (sandwiched around a couple solid 15 and 16-point performances). He shot just 2 of 10 against Tennessee, 2 of 12 against Auburn and 2 of 11 in the SEC Tournament against Arkansas.
So it was highly encouraging for the Gators to see him breakout for 20 points Thursday night, his most since scoring 23 on Jan. 10 against Mississippi State. He finished 8 of 17 from the field (4 of 10 on 3-pointers) and threw down a fastbreak dunk to peak the Gators’ lead at 23 points late in the second half.
Koulechov didn’t see himself as any sort of storyline, though, while talking in the locker room after the game.
“It was big, but it’s a group effort. Guys were getting me looks the whole game, [Chris Chiozza] had 11 assists, guys were just sharing the ball, and the way we play defense we got out on the break and got a couple easy ones,” he said. “… I really try not to overthink it because I feel that’s where you start messing up when you just overthink things. Every game is different, every matchup is different and every team is different. That’s kind of the mindset I’m trying to have and I know a lot of guys on this team are trying to have.”
Except this one was especially different.
Getting back to the NCAA Tournament was one of Koulechov’s motivations when he decided to leave Rice after two productive seasons (which followed his short stint at Arizona State).
And he did allow himself to appreciate the moment a little bit Thursday — to a certain point.
“It’s amazing. I just had a thought today, ‘Wow, this is why I came here. It’s about to happen in like 2 hours,'” he recalled after the game. “I was just watching those games today and that kind of went through my head, but once we got on that court it felt like just any other game that we’ve played.”
The post Florida basketball: Egor Koulechov’s second NCAA Tournament experience much better than the first appeared first on SEC Country.