Nembhard poised for even larger role for Gators

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Florida freshman guard Andrew Nembhard drives for a layup Saturday against Michigan State. The Gators lost 63-59 to the Spartans. [Lauren Bacho/Staff Photographer]

For 36 minutes Saturday, Florida freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard appeared to have come crashing down to Earth.

Nembhard, who less than a week prior had been named the SEC’s Freshman of the Week, had mustered just two points in the first half as the Gators struggled to keep up with Michigan State.

But late in the decisive second half, Nembhard seemingly took another step forward.

Nembhard scored on four of Florida’s final seven shots and assisted on two others as the Gators clawed back to make it a one-possession game down the stretch.

Poised for a drop-off against a top-10 opponent, Nembhard emerged as a potential late-game option down the stretch for the Gators, finishing with a team-high tying 13 points and three assists.

Despite the presence of three experienced senior scorers on Florida’s roster, head coach Mike White contemplated after the game whether Nembhard — who leads the team in minutes per game — should be pushed further considering his progress to date.

“Maybe we need to challenge him more, I’m not sure. He’s been terrific. I know he’s playing really well,” White said of Nembhard after the 63-59 loss at the O’Connell Center. “He was really good today, very accountable. If he was supposed to sprint out of a trap, he sprinted out of a trap. If he’s supposed to be in the gap, he’s in the gap. He just is.”

The soft-spoken Nembhard broke down Florida’s issues in the first half — a further display of his advanced knowledge of the game — as well, saying the guards need to come out of the tunnel with an edge rather than turning it on late in the game.

Kevaughn Allen — who had a solid performance matching Nembhard with 13 points, albeit on 33.3 percent shooting — and Jalen Hudson may have the experience, but it’s becoming evident Nembhard has the coveted ability of igniting his teammates.

“Me and all the other guards just need to be more aggressive and stop playing tense and scared,” Nembhard said. “In the first half, we weren’t being as aggressive as we should have been. For sure.”

Three of Florida’s four losses this season have been decided by seven points or less, meaning a few free throws here — coming into Saturday, the Gators were ranked No. 303 in free-throw percentage in NCAA Division I at 63.9 percent —  or recovering a loose ball there would have made the difference.

An optimistic assessment is that Florida is aware of what needs improvement — it’s finding out just how to improve collectively what has held a talent-laden roster back in 2018.

“It’s tough, obviously, to take the loss. But we can see some stuff that we need to work on,” Nembhard said. “I feel like we can stay with anybody in the country right now. I think we have a lot of stuff to improve on. We could have definitely got that win.”

19 COMMENTS

  1. ”Maybe we need to challenge him more, I’m not sure.” -Coach White on Andrew Nembhard .
    Maybe we need to ”challenge you more,” Coach ‘W’. And I am sure! While I know that you’re no Billy ‘D’, it is your 4th year at U.F., Coach ‘W’. And for the record, Coach Billy ‘D’ went to the FINAL 4 in his 4th year as Head Coach at Florida. So no pressure, Coach ‘W’. Only Orange & Blue hopes that you will be able to recruit some REAL BIG MEN that can compliment ballers, like Andrew Nembhard… and soon! GO GATORS!

    • Billy Donovan was the best thing to ever happen to UF basketball, if not UF athletics, but you have to admit that he didn’t really leave a very full and abundant cabinet when he left. It took him a couple of years to rebuild after the ’04s left, and after the last final four crew left, he wasn’t here long enough to rebuild, so it was up to Mike White to do that. Next year’s class will give him two straight solid classes, with even last year’s class not being that bad, just suffering the long term injury bug. If he isn’t able to mold these younger guys into solid teams over the next couple of years, then maybe, but I wouldn’t count him out.

    • I get it but that PDS that you have does not help. I was impressed by the second half… Coach White cannot hit open shots for the guys… nor can he shoot FTs… he also cannot dive for lose balls. Not everything is on the coaches in basketball. Hopefully Stokes gets to where he can play more as he gets in better shape. He barely played for two years – that is a lot of rust. Gak and Johnson cannot get healthy – need them for depth. Gak is a project but Johnson was a top 100 recruit that we cannot keep on the court. Doubt that is on Coach White either.

      • Billy D was always a great recruiter and honed his coaching skills over the years to become one of the best game coaches. I think MW is on the right track. He’s recruiting well but we do need some beef underneath. I was really impressed by Sparty’s 2 bruisers. That was the difference. I’m hopeful that Stokes will develop to resemble that kind of presence down low.

  2. Based on what? White’s winning percentage in his first 4 years is higher that Donovan’s, over more difficult competition (as based on strength of schedule). White has been a bit snakebitten last year and this year with regard to injuries for big men, but overall White’s recruits this year are solid, with even better recruits slated for next year.

    White knows that with this roster his team has to play strong defense to keep games close when the shots aren’t falling, but against most teams they are getting open looks, and they won’t stay ice cold all season.

    Basketball is much more about how you finish the season than how you start the season. White’s teams have finished strong each year. The man knows how to coach.

    • Personally, I don’t think White is doing a good job with this team. But Hudson, Hayes and Allen are HUGE disappointments. Still, White has some responsibility. He could try a new offensive scheme or use some of the younger players. He does have a Top 5 recruiting class coming for the 2019-20 season so I don’t see him losing his job at this time.

  3. How is it that Coach White has not been able to recruit a big man that not only rebounds but can score in the paint? He needs to realize that he is at a major conference program and that undersized centers and power forwards aren’t going to get it done. You’re not at Louisiana Tech anymore.

  4. Nembhard is doing a good job. He is handling the ball and distributing the ball well. The “problem” is not with him. It is the rest of the team. They have no inside scoring. Can one of the big’s please step up and play like they really want to be out there. Can someone score 10-12 points in a game? Where is the outside shooting? KA is too inconsistent. He is taking too many bad and forced shots. Plus, he never lights it up. His shooting percentage is too low. Where is Hudson? He has fallen off the face of the earth.

  5. this nembhard is starting to look like he will be one of the five best players weve had since horford moved on. with that kind of talent starting to assemble i don’t see the logic of firing the coach. some gator fans absolutely mystify me, but im sure they are not too sold on my ideas either.

  6. Following a legend is never easy. Gator basketball looks discombobulated right now after coming off 2 straight trips to the tourney. However, as no1g8r stated it isn’t how you start, but how you finish. Basketball allows for growth during the season. Mike White has the team pointed in the right direction. He just signed a Top 5 class during the recent early signing period which includes a center/power forward and a small forward. White has shown he knows how to develop point guards. He hired Al Pinkins last off-season to develop the bigs. Pinkins will need some time and fresh faces to get the inside game where it needs to be. However, he has a proven track record of development of players. White should have hired him or a different bigs coach 2 years ago. Florida has not had an elite power forward or center for a long time. Even Donovan didn’t have an elite center at the end of his rein. Florida has always been a dominant guard team.

    The biggest mystery is what happened to Hudson. Allen has always been a off and on player. However, Hudson has always been a solid double digit scorer until this year. He should be the leader, but a true freshman, Nembhard, has taken this role. White has already written off Hudson. There has to be story as to why Hudson has disappeared. Regardless, help is on the way next year.

  7. I’m afraid we are going to waste Nems time with us with zilch inside game. Nems is good enough to be one and done and I’m not sure he will be impressed with a NIT invite. MW has the team playing great D, but I’m not sure he knows how to coach O. I’m not sure he understands the importance of recruiting bigs that can score. Right now we have zero, zilch, nada Bigs and that was a glaring issue last year. It’s not fixed. It will be an issue throughout this year and seemingly will not be fixed next year either. MW has a talented recruits coming but once again ignores a glaring hole.

  8. I caught most of the second half of the game. I thought the Gators played played pretty well keeping the score close and chipping away at the lead.

    As I posted earlier, we need Nembhard to become the confident floor general. It looks like he is taking that step and I am pleased it’s happening this early. It typically takes a while for a freshmen to assert himself as he develops confidence not only on himself but from his teammates and coaches. I remember Bradley Beal didn’t really assert himself until the post season. In fairness, Beal was surrounded by good players and wasn’t needed to take charge.

    As I’ve said preseason, the question mark on this team is at the 5 position. I felt comfortable with the other 4 spots because they can score and have depth. I was really looking forward to seeing Stokes play to see what he can do. He hasn’t played as well as I like but the season is still young. He is aggressive but foul prone. Once he learns how to play aggressive without fouling, I think this will be a good team. I think Hayes plays better as a power forward. I like to see Stokes and Hayes on the floor at the same time against bigger opponents.

    Another question mark I have is do we have a lock down defender. At some point, we will play a team with a superstar; someone who is fast, generates his own shot, and score. We need someone who can keep the opposing superstar in check.

    Don’t give up on this team Gator fans. Kenpom has us ranked #22. The 4 losses were to #8, 14, 26, and 33. Those aren’t bad losses. We have wins over #32, 99, 191, 232, and 253. They have lots of opportunities to improve their resume left. They are still on track to make the tournament.

  9. I disagree that this team will improve. I have seen nothing from any player that would make me think this team could make the big dance–Nembhard excluded. Hayes as a 3 or 4? Jeez. He has shown no offensive or defensive skills as a 5. I will now shut up. If I am proven to be wrong, I will be the first on this site to say I was wrong.