NEW YORK — Wisconsin was bringing the fight to Florida in the first half of their Sweet 16 matchup. Then, Chris Chiozza happened.
A battle betweenChiozzaand Badgers forward Bronson Koenig was simmering on the floor. After a hugeChiozzabucket, the Gator guardjawed with Koenig all the way down the floor. Chest out, head high, he got right in Koenig's face on the defensive end of the floor,spouting some words. The intensity was at a boiling point.
Then, the Gators forced a turnover.
Hunched over at his table on Saturday, Florida's Justin Leon shot straight up in his seatand cracked a mile-wide smile when asked about themoment. He didn't even let me finish the question — hesaw the play developing the whole way.
One thing was clear from both Leon and Florida center Kevarrius Hayes: Chiozza isn't much of a trash-talker. The buzzer-beater, obviously, was the highlight of the Florida win. But the way he talked trash may have been the most important moment.
"Everybody knows (Chiozza's) a really talented point guard.He does what's needed," Hayes told Sporting News. "He can hit shotsbeyond the 3, he's really good at drivingto the hole and he's a great passer."
But beyond the floor?
"He's a hype guy. He's always dancing. He's actually the DJ for our team sessions," Hayes said. "Whenever we travel on the bus, or just hanging out in the locker room, he's always got music on hand. He's our go-to."
That was apparent with his 30 minutes played on Friday. Chiozzawas the Energizer bunny on the court, looking to push the ball whenever he had it in his hands. He finished with eightpoints, but provided a spark off the bench. In fact, he has done that in all 35 of Florida's games this season, ranking fifth on the team in minutes played.
The 2016-17 season was Chiozza's most efficient offensive season as a Gator. He averaged 7.1 points per contest andshot 51 percent from the floor. Coach Mike White seems to believe that hisbig change in play style is, well, a bit freaky.
"Chris Chiozza for whatever reason as a freshman just isn't what he is now," White said. "Some of that is natural and then some of it is a little bit abnormal."
Chiozza may have been the hero on Friday, but he's all business heading into Florida's matchup against South Carolina on Sunday. Despite making one of the great March Madness plays — one that will be spliced into highlight reels for years to come — Chiozza's focus leaves no room for doubt.
"It's not hard at all (to focus)," Chiozza told Sporting News."It's the Elite Eight. If you're not ready for this, you shouldn't be here."