Lee Humphrey was in one of those zones that he’s prone to get in last Saturday in Columbia. There are times when he just feels it. He locks. He loads. He lets it fly and if his three-ball touches anything but net, it’s pretty much an upset. That’s the way it was against South Carolina when he nailed seven of eight shots including a couple from well beyond NBA range.
Humphrey finished the game with a career-high 27 points, earning Southeastern Conference Player of the Week honors while helping the Gators win their ninth straight game. The number one-ranked Gators, 16-2 on the season and 3-0 in the SEC, go for 10 in a row Saturday when they play host to Ole Miss at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
In three SEC games, Humphrey is 14-20 from the three-point stripe. Thanks to the recent hot streak, Humphrey is hitting 45.2 percent on threes for the season, just a shade under last year’s team-leading 45.6 percent. Florida’s version of the hired gun averaged 10.9 points per game last year. He’s at 10.4 this season and he’s in such a shooting groove that you could call him “Lethal Weapon Three.”
He was in the groove last year in the SEC Tournament and again in the NCAA Tournament. He torched Arkansas in the SEC quarter-finals, did a number on South Alabama in the first round of the NCAAs, absolutely killed George Mason in the NCAA semifinals and then was the second half dagger that stopped UCLA’s beating heart in the championship game.
When Humphrey has things going the way he did in the NCAAs or like he did last week against South Carolina, teammates admit they don’t even worry about rebounding. As soon as the ball leaves Humphrey’s hands, they just head upcourt to get ready to play defense.
“It’s always been that way when he’s shooting,” said Al Horford, who says Humphrey’s shooting against South Carolina was at a new level.
“After he hit the first five in a row, they probably knew they were going to be in for a long night,” said the 6-10 junior center with a laugh.
Horford’s only complaint about Humphrey in the South Carolina game was that he didn’t take enough shots.
“I just hoped he would keep shooting the ball,” said Horford. “I didn’t think he shot it enough last game. I felt like he should have gotten more shots up. Maybe he saved some for Saturday.”
Humphrey, whom Coach Billy Donovan last year had to threaten with benching if he didn’t shoot more often, thought he took an adequate number of shots.
“I think I took all the shots that I had,” he said. “I think I maybe passed up on one early on. I just try to take open shots and I try to take good shots. If I have good shots I take them but if I don’t I try to get somebody else good shots.”
When Humphrey has his stroke just right, teammates know it might be awhile before he misses. In practice, he’s gone on some tears that just leave everybody shaking their heads.
Asked what is the best run of three-balls he’s had, Humphrey laughs, does an “aw shucks” and says, “Maybe close to 30 … 27 … 28 … something like that.”
It’s Humphrey’s job to stretch defenses with his long range bombing although he has added a couple of new wrinkles to his game. When defenders come running at him, he’s shown the ability to put the ball on the floor and move in for an open 15-footer. He’s also shown more aggressiveness taking the ball all the way to the rack this year.
“I think I’ve improved that part of my game and the way that people are playing the three-point line on me has given me a chance to attack the basket a little bit more,” he said.
No matter how good he’s become off the dribble, it’s when Humphrey gets his feet set and shoulders squared that he’s the most dangerous. With Humphrey leading the way, the Gators are ranked seventh in the nation in three-point shooting (42.6 percent as a team). Taurean Green is hitting 43 percent of his shots. Off the bench, Walter Hodge is hitting an astounding 59.5 percent (22-37) from the three-stripe.
Donovan won’t say that this team shoots the three-ball better than the 2000 team that had Teddy Dupay, Brett Nelson, Mike Miller, Kenyan Weaks, Matt Bonner and Brent Wright loading it up beyond the arc but he thinks this year’s shooters are a bit more selective.
“These guys know when to take the three and they we rarely take a lot of bad three-point shots and I think that’s a credit to them,” said Donovan, who added “this team will shoot a high percentage as long as their shot selection is good.”
Horford and Joakim Noah are both hitting well over 60 percent of their shots and they admit their job is made easier when Humphrey and Florida’s other three-point shooters are on their game. Noah has hit his only three-point shot this year and Horford has consistently knocked down a 15-foot jumper that’s new to his arsenal but they are at their best when they are around the basket where the choice is to bank it off the glass or dunk.
“Coach gives everybody a lot of freedom,” said Noah. “Al and I have made good decisions. We haven’t forced anything. If you’re wide open you just take it. There are definitely times we could take one but when you have guys like Lee Humphrey and Taurean, guys like that can really shoot the ball. I think that’s been one of our strengths as a team knowing what a good shot is.”
Humphrey, meanwhile, will continue to load it up and fire away from the arc. Any shot that he’s open looks good right now and he’s got carte blanche to let it rip any time he’s open. He’s feeling like he’s in somewhat of a groove right now, so the ball might be going up a little bit more.
“You can tell,” he said. “You get a feeling somedays that you feel hot. You want to get up a lot of shots. You just shoot it and your confidence is good. You just feel good.”