It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Andrew Nembhard has hit his stride at the right time.
The sophomore point guard scored a career-high 25 points in Florida’s 104-98 double-overtime win Saturday over Alabama while making several key plays down the stretch.
Nembhard scored seven of his points in extra periods of play, and either scored or assisted on 18 of Florida’s 51 second-half points, as the Gators pulled off the largest comeback in program history.
Factor in Nembhard’s career-best 13 assists in UF’s previous game, a 39-point win over Long Beach State, and the implication is that the native of Aurora, Canada, may be the key to UF’s ongoing offensive improvement.
“Just being more aggressive, knowing that I need to make plays for my team to win,” Nembhard said. “I didn’t do that in the first half, so I tried to come out more aggressive and more confident.”
After a first half that saw the Gators fall into a 21-point hole, only to cut the deficit to 14 just before halftime, UF appeared to utilize more sets featuring a dribble hand-off with Nembhard and Kerry Blackshear Jr., resulting in either an open lane for the former or a jumper for the latter. While Alabama kept hitting shots of its own, UF stuck with what kept working on the other end, and eventually the unlikely outcome had been secured.
One could point to coach Mike White’s technical foul midway through the second half, or a possible halftime berating in the locker room as the driving factor behind Florida storming back. But it was neither of those things, said Nembhard.
“Yeah, the message wasn’t, like, crazy yelling,” he said. “It was just, (White) just told us exactly what we got to do to win, and we all felt pretty confident in our ability to get it done in the second half.”
Freshman Scottie Lewis, whose combination of outside shooting and defense propelled the Gators during several stretches in the second half, echoed Nembhard’s post-game comments.
“Listen to Coach White, that’s just the main thing. You know, the guy has a mind that’s just extraordinary in the world of college basketball. He’s someone who always thinks there’s a chance,” Lewis said. “He puts faith in a lot of us, and we put faith in him, and down the stretch it’s just up to us to buckle in and listen and do everything that he says perfectly, and us to buy in with each other. He teaches and preaches culture every single day, so without a coach like that and my teammates, we wouldn’t have been able to win that game.”
Considering UF will presumably get every team’s best effort from here on out — as it did from Alabama — the Gators will likely need Nembhard and Co. to maintain said aggressiveness.
“Every body’s going to play us differently, and tonight, they were almost forcing Andrew to shoot it, to drive it, to attack the gap. As he was getting in there and kicking it, as we were running some spread pick-and-roll stuff, and as he was skipping it to corners or hitting the lift guy, they were right there. Prepared and quick, and the whole deal,” White said. “So I just think he put it on himself to be a little bit more aggressive getting his own tonight.”