ORLANDO, Fla. — Only a few minutes after opening NCAA Tournament play with a decisive victory over East Tennessee State, Florida guard Chris Chiozza was already thinking about a looming second-round matchup with Virginia in the East Region.
Some assignments are just too juicy to ignore.
With the task of tracking point guard London Perrantes about to come into view with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line, Chiozza was quick to turn his attention to his upcoming duties shortly after the fourth-seeded Gators (25-8) earned a date with the fifth-seeded Cavaliers on Saturday at Amway Center.
“Everybody that’s a competitor, when you go against a guy at your position or you’re matched up with somebody who is supposed to be their best player,” Chiozza said, “you’re going to take it personal.”
Chiozza was part of a Gators backcourt that forced East Tennessee State guard T.J. Cromer to work for each of his 19 points during Florida’s 80-65 first-round win. But Perrantes is a different type of player who brings a new set of challenges.
In addition to being able to create his own shot off the dribble, Perrantes showcased his ability to distribute and get his offense rolling as Virginia (23-10) held on to beat UNC Wilmington 76-71.
The senior guard finished with a game-high 24 points, including 19 during a huge second half, and he added three assists in a complete effort. He connected on a pair of 3-pointers and was accurate when getting to the foul line, making four of his five tries.
“I just wanted to get the win, and I had to do whatever I could,” Perrantes said.
That mindset will be fascinating to watch against the Gators, who can turn Chiozza, Kasey Hill and KeVaughn Allen loose against Perrantes in different situations. Hill and Allen each swiped a pair of steals Thursday, and Chiozza added one. Overall, Florida scored 20 points off 17 turnovers and added 18 fastbreak points.
“He’s a good player, so I’m sure he’s going to make some tough shots,” Chiozza said of Perrantes. “We’re going to do our best not to give him any easy looks.”
That includes setting up good looks for teammates.
Perrantes and guard Marial Shayok combined for 47 points while turning the ball over just twice against UNC Wilmington, totals that would be tough to swallow for the Gators if they are going to advance.
That means Florida will need its backcourt to once again step up and be disruptive.
And a large part of that falls on Chiozza.
“Chris has always been a tough kid,” Gators coach Mike White said. “In my opinion, in the last few months, he’s really grown into becoming a really tough kid. For whatever reason, he’s embraced that.”