The days leading up to Florida’s 69-47 win over No. 4 Auburn were anything but pleasurable for Andrew Nembhard.
Battling the flu in the immediate wake of UF’s win Tuesday over Ole Miss, it seemed the sophomore point guard would be unavailable – or limited – for Saturday’s showdown with the Tigers in the O’Connell Center, Florida’s biggest game of the season to date.
“This guy, we didn’t even know if he was going to play,” Gators coach Mike White admitted. “He literally hadn’t done anything physical for two days.”
The Gators briefly moved his roommates, Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson, out of their shared living space and into a hotel. Then, the area was given a full Lysol disinfectant treatment, courtesy of the team managers.
Unnecessary, perhaps, but a risk worth taking with a top-five match-up looming.
By Saturday morning’s shoot-around – his reunion with his teammates – Nembhard felt “about 80 percent” health-wise; despite feeling a bit off, he tried not to let it show.
By tip-off there was little doubt Nembhard, who has started every game at Florida, would be making his 53rd consecutive start – how he would perform, however, remained to be seen.
But Nembhard was once again Florida’s leader in the backcourt – something the Gators have come to expect more often than not.
Although he played a season-low in minutes, Nembhard did a little bit of everything. His six points all seemed to come at crucial times for the Gators, his first of five assists came less than 90 seconds into the game and subsequently helped kick-start a career-performance for freshman Omar Payne, and he did what White asked of his guards coming into the game – he chased rebounds consistently.
After helping out-rebound the SEC’s leading rebounding team, Nembhard said he was still “a little bit sick” while revealing White’s initial concern was essentially all for naught.
“I was feeling pretty bad on Wednesday. Just stayed home, didn’t go to practice or nothing, no class,” Nembhard said, “but in my head, I was never not going to play today.”
That’s not to say the influenza didn’t have an impact on his physicality, however.
“I was a little tired,” he said. “My wind was about the same, just because of breathing, but it wasn’t a big problem.”
Considering his condition, White had said Florida’s freshman point guard duo in Ques Glover and Tre Mann should be prepared to step up; with Nembhard sitting for longer stretches than normal, and with the Gators comfortably in front for much of the second half, they did just that.
Glover and Mann each played 18 minutes and combined to go 3-for-8 from the field, and each hauled in a pair of rebounds. Modest numbers admittedly, but more importantly they’re performances that give the Gators confidence they can count on the freshmen in the backcourt.
With a trip Tuesday to LSU before battling top-five Baylor at home, Saturday’s victory not only served as a necessary resume booster – it showed the Gators have more mettle than many thought.
“We just got two big wins at home, and now I’m trying to carry that on the road,” Kerry Blackshear Jr. said. “We understand that it’s a long season, we’re trying to get better each and every game. We need games like this, we’ve got to win at home, no matter who it is. And we’ve got to try to steal as many as we can on the road, too.”