As the Florida men’s basketball team enters the final three weeks of the regular season, coach Mike White faces the unenviable task of managing the players’ health while putting the Gators in prime position to succeed.
With UF’s freshmen, especially shooting guard Noah Locke, nursing various injuries and fatigue, the truth is there isn’t a perfect solution when it comes to staying fresh in February. If there is, White would like to hear it before Florida takes the court in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to take on the Crimson Tide (15-9, 6-5 SEC) at 2 p.m. today.
“That’s difficult. I don’t think there’s an exact science to it,” White said. “We want (Locke) to be productive and drilled and prepared, but at the same time we’re trying to manage his exertion in practice on a daily basis. Andrew (Nembhard) too. It’s a balancing act. They’ve got to do something today, otherwise I don’t know how they can be really productive tomorrow. But they can’t do too much because then they can’t play too many minutes.”
Nembhard, whose 31.3 minutes per game this season leads all Gators, in particular has looked noticeably fatigued in recent contests, although he got a bit of a reprieve in Wednesday’s 66-57 win over Vanderbilt. The freshman point guard tallied just 16 minutes after battling through foul trouble for much of the night. Nembhard admitted his inaugural collegiate campaign has lived up to the hype — when it comes to the heightened daily intensity, that is.
“I’ve never gone through such a hard season in my life, playing so much basketball. It’s just trying to get used to it. I think we’ve adjusted pretty well,” Nembhard said. “I think practice is just focused on the main things we need. Not trying to overrun us or overdo our bodies. Trying to just get to the point.”
With the starters ailing, Florida’s bench stepped up against the Commodores, providing 29 points as senior KeVaughn Allen and Locke combined to go 2-for-19 from the field. If Florida hopes to keep its hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament alive, White and the Gators (13-11, 5-6 SEC) acknowledge the bench will have to take things one step further and step up during Saturday’s tough road contest.
“We haven’t gotten a lot of bench production this year, but we’re coming off a game where our bench probably as productive as it has been all season,” White said. ‘So there was a definite positive there. Hopefully we can build on that.
“I think the guys, more so than anything, had the correct mindset and approach when their name was called. Just go in there and play a game. Do their job. Help their teammates. Not everybody can start. This isn’t bitty basketball. This is the SEC. When minutes are divvied up and starting roles are earned, everybody has to be mature about it. It’s not coach playing favorites. We’re trying to win. We’re trying to compete at the highest level. I like, more so than any other time this season, where the mentality is on the bench.”
Who: Florida (13-11, 5-6 SEC) vs. Alabama (15-9, 6-5)
When: 2 p.m.
Where: Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Radio: 103.7-FM, 98.1-FM, AM-850
Keyontae Johnson; F; 6-5; Fr.; 7.1 ppg; 5.7 rpg
Kevarrius Hayes; C; 6-9; Sr.; 6.9 ppg; 6.1 rpg
Andrew Nembhard; G; 6-5; Fr.; 7.3 ppg; 5.4 apg
KeVaughn Allen; G; 6-2; Sr.; 12.5 ppg; 2.9 rpg
Noah Locke; G; 6-3; Fr.; 11.3 ppg; 2.8 3FG
Donta Hall; F; 6-9; Sr.; 11.0 ppg; 8.6 rpg
Tevin Mack; F; 6-6; Jr.; 9.1 ppg ;3.8 rpg
Kira Lewis; Jr.; G ;6-3 ;Fr.; 14.4 ppg; 2.4 rpg
Herbert Jones; G; 6-7; So.; 6.3 ppg; 4.0 rpg
Dazon Ingram; G; 6-5; Jr.; 7.8 ppg; 4.0 rpg
Notes: Florida comes in looking to build off Wednesday’s win vs. Vanderbilt, which featured Keyontae Johnson leading the Gators with a career-high-tying 15 points and 9 rebounds. … The Gators have won seven in a row in Tuscaloosa. In four meetings between Florida and Alabama since Mike White and Avery Johnson were hired in 2015, the road team has won each time. … Jalen Hudson has shown flashes of his old self recently, averaging 10.0 points over the past four games, scoring in double figures three times. Hudson scored 27 in the Gators’ visit to Alabama last season. … UF leads the SEC in scoring defense (63.5; 19th nationally) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (.316), and the Gators rank 2nd in in turnover margin (+4.0) and 3-pointers made (8.8).
— Graham Hall