Florida men's basketball coach Mike White knew his team was lacking in offensive confidence before its Christmas break.
Going from scoring 100-plus points in four of its first five games this season to struggling to reach 70 points didn’t help Florida’s mentality. And it started to show on the court. In UF’s first six contests, it shot 46 percent from beyond the arc. In the six games after, that number dropped to 28.6 percent.
Three games into conference play, the Florida men’s basketball team’s identity is beginning …
However, if Florida’s current five-game win streak is any indication, the Gators are finding their offensive identity just in time for conference play, where they sit alone in first place with an undefeated 3-0 SEC record.
White said being on the “short end of the stick” a few times this season helped his team learn to adapt offensively.
“We’ve found more of an offensive rhythm,” White said on Monday. “I think we have a better understanding of who operates where.”
Florida (11-4, 3-0 SEC) will try and continue to develop that rhythm and build its confidence tonight at 7 when it takes on Mississippi State (13-2, 1-1 SEC) at the O’Connell Center.
UF’s top scorers, guards Jalen Hudson (16.9 per game), Egor Koulechov (15.0), Chris Chiozza (13.1) and KeVaughn Allen (11.1), will be needed to combat a Bulldogs team that has held opponents to 63.5 points per game this season.
While the Gators have benefitted from the scoring of their older guards throughout the season, the past couple games have seen the resurgence of center Kevarrius Hayes.
Since Florida’s 75-60 win over Incarnate Word on Dec. 22, Hayes has provided UF with the inside presence it had been missing all season, averaging 8.3 points per game while blocking 11 shots over the last four games.
Florida will look to Hayes to help limit Bulldogs big men Aric Holman and Abdul Ado, who lead Mississippi State in rebounds and blocks, respectively.
“Kevarrius is our most vocal guy, so when he’s playing well, I think it gives our guys confidence,” White said. “The great thing with him is he doesn’t need to get 14 points to consider it playing well.”
The Bulldogs have won five of their last six games, including an SEC-opening victory against Arkansas. Although MSU has Holman and Ado in the frontcourt, most of its scoring comes from starting guards Quinndary Weatherspoon, Nick Weatherspoon and Tyson Carter.
“Their speed and quickness on the perimeter is probably as good as there is,” White said.
White is 2-0 against Mississippi State as UF’s coach, but said he is treating this game as if he has never faced the Bulldogs before.
“They’re really sound,” White said. “They’re a different team than they were a year ago.”