About two months ago, Dorian Finney-Smith was Florida’s vocal leader.
He was challenged by the coaching staff to mentor the team’s youngest members, to keep them engaged in practice and during games and to help them stay motivated off the court.
But with his rise in leadership came a lack of production. Finney-Smith, more of a soft-spoken, reserved player than a loud one, was outside of his comfort zone.
During a three-game stretch against Florida State, Georgia and Tennessee in late December to early January, the forward averaged just 9.7 points per game on 10-of-33 shooting.
Then he stopped concentrating on talking and let his play make all the noise.
Since the start of Southeastern Conference play, Finney-Smith has averaged 16.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, along with a 50.0-percent shooting clip from the field.
"Any time he opens up his mouth now," coach Mike White said, "you’ve got a lot of guys that are really locked into what he’s saying."
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Finney-Smith leads Florida with a 23.3 player efficiency rating, which is a statistic that combines categories such as field goals, free throws, assists and rebounds to determine a player's performance.
He also leads UF with a plus-minus rating of 12.4, which means that Finney-Smith is 12.4 points better than an average player over 100 possessions.
He’s notched three double-doubles in his last five games, all while playing the most minutes per game over that span at 33.4
And the redshirt senior is doing it all for a reason.
"It’s my last year," Finney-Smith said. "Now or never."
Gators looking to avoid letdown against Arkansas:
After securing big wins this season, Florida has had a tendency to regress in its next outing.
After the Gators defeated Jacksonville by 24 points on Dec. 22, they fell to Florida State at home seven days later.
After beating Georgia by double digits in its next game, UF suffered an embarrassing 14-point loss on the road to Tennessee where it trailed by as many as 30 points.
And, finally, after a 32-point shellacking of Auburn on Jan. 23 in which the Gators made 56.9 percent of their shots, they fell to Vanderbilt by one point in their next game behind a 21.2-percent first-half shooting performance.
"I think the biggest challenge by far in a way will be our mentality," White said. "We just beat a top 10 team, and now you have a team that’s hovering around .500. How do our guys handle that?"
When Florida (14-7, 5-3 SEC) faces Arkansas (11-10, 4-4 SEC) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the O’Connell Center, it’ll have to avoid a letdown while also contending with Razorbacks' forward Moses Kingsley, guard Dusty Hannahs and the nation’s sixth-ranked three-point shooting team (42.4 percent).
Kingsley and Hannahs both average over 16 points per game, more than any Florida player.
The Gators must also find a way to limit Arkansas guard Jabril Durham, the SEC’s leader in assists per game at 7.0.
"We tend to get up for big games against teams that are highly rated and highly talented," Finney-Smith said. "We just got to be more internally motivated, and that starts with maturing."
Seven minutes into Florida’s win over West Virginia on Saturday, Kasey Hill’s nose began to bleed after it was whacked by a West Virginia player. Hill and the Florida medical staff hurried back to the locker room and discovered his nose was broken.
The junior returned with 8:25 left in the first half and scored four points, dished out one assist and went 2-of-4 from the free-throw line.
"I thought he showed incredible physical toughness," White said. "No one in the stands even knew he had a broken nose, but to go out and continue to play and make the decisions he made and the way he battled, I was proud of him after the game, for sure."
Add Hill to forwards Alex Murphy, Justin Leon and Kevarrius Hayes who are also on Florida’s injury list.
Murphy has been sidelined since Nov. 6 and Leon missed Saturday’s game against West Virginia after he suffered a head injury against Vanderbilt last Tuesday.
Hayes had his shoulder wrenched while fighting for a rebound midway through the second half of Saturday’s game. Although he returned to score four points and grab another rebound, Florida is unsure of his availability tonight.
"We’ll find out more today as far as what strength he is at," White said. "We’re banged up."