The 3-point line is one of the great equalizers in college basketball.
For as well as No. 20 Florida has shot the ball from 3-point range this season, the Gators have been equally porous defending it.
Perimeter defensive breakdowns hurt the Gators again in their 77-72 loss Wednesday to South Carolina at the O’Connell Center. Florida allowed the Gamecocks to shoot 52.4 percent (11-21) from 3-point range.
For the season, Florida ranks last in the SEC and 317th in the nation (out of 351 teams) in 3-point field goal percentage defense. While Florida is shooting 37.9 percent from 3-point range this season, the Gators are allowing opponents to shoot 37.8 percent from beyond the arc. Florida is making 9.5 3-pointers per game, while allowing 7.1 3-pointers per contest.
On Wednesday night, Florida failed to recognize the hot hand, South Carolina graduate transfer point guard Wesley Myers, who made his first five 3-point attempts and finished 5 of 7 from 3-point range. The 6-foot-1 Myers made three, 3-pointers in the first half on open looks and carried over the hot shooting into the second half on his way to a season-high 22 points.
In reviewing the South Carolina film Thursday, Florida coach Mike White said the breakdowns in 3-point defense were numerous.
“Getting out of a stance,” White said.”Not fighting through screens with urgency. Dying on screens. Losing sight of ball and man, and at the same time — ball-watching — and before you know it you have a screen at your body. Over-helping on guys we shouldn’t be over-helping on.”
The biggest 3-pointer of the game came with Florida up 48-39 and 16:11 remaining, when Myers stepped back and hit a 24-footer at the end of the shot clock to cut UF’s lead to 48-42. That gave South Carolina life and allowed the Gamecocks to rally for the win.
“We have to know the clock,” White said. “Three seconds on the shot clock. We see it. At that point, we’ve got to make guys drivers, as opposed to accepting the late-clock 3s.”
Personnel has played into UF’s woes defending the 3-point line as well. Last season, with longer, more athletic players like Devin Robinson and Kasey Hill guarding the perimeter, the Gators ranked second in the SEC in 3-point percentage defense at 30.5 percent. Florida also has been forced to double-team more in the post this season due to size mismatches with 6-foot-9, 225-pound Kevarrius Hayes playing center and 6-8, 240-pound Keith Stone playing power forward.
“Our margin for error is smaller — and I’ve said this since September — because we’re not as talented defensively as last year’s group,” White said.
FREE THROWS: Senior center John Egbunu took part in pregame warmups before Florida’s game against South Carolina. “He was excited,” White said. “He had a little sweat. It was fun in the locker room there for 10 seconds.” The 6-foot-11 Egbunu, though, is still dealing with swelling in his surgically repaired knee following non-contact workouts and won’t be cleared for contact until he can make it through a workout without swelling. … White, on electing to foul with Florida down 73-70 and 43.6 seconds left rather than playing out the defensive possession. “We fouled the wrong guy,” White said. Florida freshman guard Mike Okauru fouled South Carolina guard Frank Booker with 39 seconds left. Booker, a 71.7 percent 3-point shooter, made both free throws. White wanted the Gators to foul Hassani Gravett, a 66-percent free throw shooter, or Myers, a 62.7 percent free throw shooter. “Just a mishap, you know,” White said. “You’re gonna make some. South Carolina made some too, but to be a really good team you can’t make that many.”
Who: Baylor (12-8) vs. No. 20 Florida (14-6)
When: 12 p.m. Saturday
Where: O’Connell Center
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850