Led by the sophomores, Florida’s offense exhibited ever-elusive balance in the win Tuesday over Arkansas.
Early on, it was sharpshooter Noah Locke with a trio of first-half 3-pointers that stole the show, and it came at an impressive rate, too. Locke connected on all but one of said attempts, and has hit 14 of his last 22 attempts from long-range in helping guide the Gators to their first three-game win streak in league play this season.
“I feel like offensively we’re moving the ball really well,” Locke said, “and showing more connectivity on that end.”
Keyontae Johnson, who Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said “dominated the basketball game,” helped carve up the Razorbacks defense to the tune of a career-high 24 points, much of it coming either off the dribble or at the free throw line, where he hit 15 of his 17 attempts at the charity stripe.
“I was just trying to drive and create contact,” Johnson said. “That’s what my strength is – driving past people – and I just took advantage of it this game.”
And Florida’s floor general, Andrew Nembhard, posted an impressive all-around line of 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists – although he did finish with a season-high five turnovers.
It all added up to what coach Mike White has been seeking all season from the Gators on offense: balance.
Rather than seek out any particular shot or resort to ‘my turn’ shots, White wants Florida to analyze the defense to take the best shot possible.
For that to work, however, the Gators have to play sound defense themselves – something they’ve done at a higher rate as of late after initially declining in defensive efficiency at the commencement of SEC play.
Although the Razorbacks, led by 21 points from the SEC’s leading scorer in Mason Jones, did at one point cut UF’s 19-point lead to one possession, the Gators never relinquished it.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was progress.
“Defensively, when times are getting rough for us, we responded well,” Locke said. “I feel like we locked in defensively. We had some mishaps, but we all decided to come together as a team and played well defensively.”
That way, when the offense is contingent upon the opposition’s defense, anyone – from the sophomores who combined for 52 of UF’s 73 points Tuesday, to the freshmen who combined for 33 points in Florida’s win in the game prior against Vanderbilt – can lead the team in scoring.
“I think we’re balanced offensively, and I think that’s helped us, too. Understanding that – and I’ve said it a bunch, I hate to beat it up – let’s just take our shot. Let’s move it and see what we get, see what this defensive possession leads to for our offense,” White said. “And who knows who will lead us in scoring Saturday, or the following game, who knows? And that’s what I want our guys’ mindset to be.”