Gators’ Nembhard overcomes Rebels’ defense

Florida sophomore guard Andrew Nembhard looks to drive the ball into the paint as Mississippi's Devontae Shuler defends Tuesday. (Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun)

With Andrew Nembhard in fine form as of late on the offensive end, Ole Miss Rebels coach Kermit Davis admitted the team broke away from the norm defensively in an effort to slow down the second-year point guard.

The Rebels, missing their starting center in Khadim Sy and leading scorer in Breein Tyree, continually ran a zone defense against the Gators during UF’s 71-55 win Tuesday — a digression for a team accustomed to either running a 1-3-1 or man-to-man defense throughout Davis’ brief tenure.

“With that personnel in there, we just thought they would expose us if we ran 1-3-1,” Davis said. “Nembhard’s really good against it, he really is. Some teams we can find ways to play it, but against him, last year he was so good against it. He sees the floor and he makes you pay for penalties. That’s what good point guards do.”

But Nembhard and the Gators weren’t fooled by the defensive adjustment either — although they did acknowledge expecting a different scheme for much of the night. After taking a 40-28 lead into the halftime break, the Gators anticipated the possibility of the Rebels returning to what’s worked more often than not. 

Yet an adjustment simply never came, and Florida’s lead only ballooned in the decisive second half. 

“Defensively I really didn’t know what to expect, honestly. Coach (Mike) White said they mix it up a lot,” said Nembhard, “so we kind of just ran with it.”

The native of Aurora, Canada, admitted he didn’t discern in-game that the defensive scheme was meant to limit his effectiveness — simply put, Tuesday’s bounce-back was business as usual for Nembhard, resulting in 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting and a game-high six assists. 

“I was just trying to read the game,” Nembhard, a slight smile growing on his face, said. “I didn’t really think of it like that. Definitely needed a win, it was kind of bad loss at Missouri. Our main focus was getting better and learning from that, and the defensive side of the ball was our main focus coming into today.”

Now, with the most daunting stretch of UF’s schedule on the horizon — the Gators host No. 4 Auburn on Saturday, travel to LSU for a Tuesday match-up and return to battle No. 2 Baylor on Jan. 25 — UF and White hope the team’s play continues to force the opposition to move away from their typical defensive schemes.

“We anticipated more 1-3-1, and saw less, and that’s a credit to Andrew. I would believe that in scouting, they try to do certain things against our players,” White said. “Andrew’s faced reverse traps, splits, whatever you want to call it. He’s really good. He’s got as good of vision as anyone in our league, probably more than most guys in college basketball. They actually blitzed him off five or six ball-screens today. He continued to drag Ole Miss’ bigs with poise and physicality while seeing the floor and getting guys shots. He’s just a terrific passer, he’s as good as there is in ball-screen reads. So we saw more 2-3 than we anticipated, and I thought we did some good things.”