‘We needed that’: Florida players react to win over No. 12 Auburn

On3 imageby:Zach Abolverdi02/10/24

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Riley Kugel‘s 22 points off the bench Saturday led the Gators to their 81-65 upset over No. 12 Auburn, while Walter Clayton Jr. scored 20 and Zyon Pullin added 19 in Florida’s second top-25 win in as many weeks (at No. 12 Kentucky).

Here’s everything Kugel, Clayton and Pullin had to say after UF’s fifth victory in six games.

Riley Kugel

On his 4-point play: 

Kugel: “It came off the finger tip nice. It felt great. I knew it was cash.”

On playing in front of another sellout crowd:

Kugel: “It’s amazing. Each and every game we play, they just get more electric and we’re here for it. We’re blessed to play in front of them.”

On importance of building on win, sustaining momentum with LSU coming in on Tuesday:

Kugel: “Attack the days. Day by day, get back at it on Tuesday.”

On Riley’s frame of mind, difference from other weeks:

Kugel: “I was just keeping my head up. Don’t dwell on anything. Keep pushing. Don’t overthink anything. Just stay positive. I know my teammates got me and I got them. And I had a Caramel Frappuccino this morning, so.”

On ups and downs this season:

Kugel: “I wouldn’t say struggles because I just call it learning lessons. Just got to get better off it. I know I let it slip. I can say that. But, I mean, each day I get better, my teammates help me get better and I’m thankful for everything I have.”

On his comfortability to share feelings:

Kugel: “I don’t really think of it as anything. I mean, I think of as just everything is just a part of my career. And I will do everything, [answer] what y’all ask me, to be where I want to be in my life and my career. So, I mean, I know no problem with any of that.”

Walter Clayton Jr.

On UF’s offensive performance against the nation’s No. 2 defense:

Clayton: “I think it’s very critical. Obviously, they’re a great defensive team and being able to spread them out, kind of bring their bigs out of the paint a little bit. They gotta worry about us hitting 3s so it just opens up stuff in the lane. So I think it was very critical.”

On Micah Handlogten’s impact:

Clayton: “Micah had a great game today. You could just feel it out there. It felt like him and Tyrese, they just had the paint on lock. So I definitely think Micah, he’s just coming into his own, obviously had a great game today. I think the main thing with him is just being tough. Today he was tough, so I think that was a big part of it. He had a great game.” 

On showing their killer instinct:

Clayton: “I think that’s something we needed as a team. Obviously, we know we’re capable of. We kept on getting out to those big leads and I think we would kind of just let up. So, the mentality of the team was to step on their neck and put them in the ground. We needed that as a team. Now we know we can do it and we gotta keep on doing it.”

On what they’ve seen from Riley Kugel during the week in practice:

Clayton: “Man, Kug’s energy was great this week, just walking. Let me say that. We had a couple spans where some people up and some people down, but Kug was definitely the peace and positivity person this week. So, I think that’s a big reason why he had a great game. “

On what stood out about his energy:

Clayton: “Just smiling. He was just smiling a lot more than usual I’m not even going to lie. It was something about his smile, you could just tell he was going to have a good day today.”

On if Kugel energized the team:

Clayton: “Yeah.”

On the offensive struggles in the last 10 minutes:

Clayton: “Yeah, I think we got some good shots. I think we got some free throw line a lot during the last nine minutes. So, just them fouling us, think we got some good shots, they probably just didn’t fall but points were still going on the boards. So, free throws, being able to hit them.”

On UF’s defensive performance:

Clayton: “Great, obviously. Our best defensive performance. Like I said, Micah had a great game today. I think Micah was a big part of that. Auburn liked to, you know, all game just forcing it in — Johni’s a great player, Jaylin Williams’ a great player — forcing it in down low. I think our bigs kind of did a great job of shutting that down and us guards kind of just had the perimeter on lock a little bit.”

Zyon Pullin

On Florida setting the tone early:

Pullin: “I think that was a big key. We wanted to get off to a fast start this game. We just kind of fed off the crowd and, you know, I think we got off to a pretty good run to start.”

On a season-low seven turnovers: 

Pullin: “I think just staying poised, everyone. Guards, bigs, all stayed pretty poised, made the right reads and we’re just trying to keep getting better at that. I think that’s something we’ve been doing. We’ve had a pretty good stretch just limiting the turnovers and trying to get a shot every time.” 

On Florida’s defensive performance: 

Pullin: “I definitely say it’s up there. I think that’s something we’re still trying to lock in on. And I think that’s something we’re gonna need to rely on, our defense if the offense is not falling.”

On embracing challenge of physicality:

Pullin: “Definitely something getting used to, that physicality, especially from a team like that, but you know just keep playing through it was the biggest thing. We knew they were gonna be a physical team. It’s kind of what they kind of pride themselves on, just staying the course and not getting caught up in it.”

On Golden’s knowledge of Auburn aiding preparation:

Pullin: “It was big. He was locked in. He was locked in this week. He gave us a great, you know, the whole coaching staff gave us a great game plan going into this one and I think it kind of showed.”

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