It’s been a long road, but the Florida Gators’ offense that once turned heads around the country may be making a comeback.
For a stretch throughout the month of December, shots simply were not falling for a team that started the season as arguably the hottest offensive team in college basketball.
The Gators fell into a hole of taking the same contested shots they were once hitting instead of finding the best look, and with every one that didn’t go, another bit of confidence left with it.
Florida’s shooters needed some time to find themselves again, and they got that with the Christmas break just before SEC play began.
The Gators viewed the beginning of conference play as a fresh start to the season, and in the three games since, it’s looked like a new team on the court.
“We just weren’t hitting shots,” said Egor Koulechov of the slump. “It came down to that. We were shooting in the high 30s, low 40s. That can frustrate the team. But at the end of the day we have good guys, a good group of guys, and we stay together, try not to let it rattle us. That’s why I think we were able to climb out of it.”
Florida may not be shooting at quite the same clip it was to start the season, but players are now making better decisions, playing with more confidence, and most importantly, according to head coach Mike White, finding an offensive identity.
“Maybe more so of an identity offensively,” White said of recent offensive production. “We’re not there full yet, but I think we have a better understanding of who operates where, better than vice versa. Which spots certain individuals do damage from. When to throw it inside. When to shoot a 3. When to make the extra pass. Just a better rhythm, I think.”
This team is just playing with a different mindset than it had in December. Had any team done to Florida what Missouri did on Saturday during that span, the Gators likely would have either completely laid down or started throwing up crazy shots in an attempt to make a comeback on the road.
Instead, Florida kept its composure when the Tigers had a 12-point lead in the second half and stayed focused despite Missouri leading for more than 33 minutes of the game.
All that came together to give Chris Chiozza the chance to make his unforgettable game-winning steal and layup when it looked like the Tigers would take the final shot of regulation.
“I didn’t even know the level of resiliency we played with, didn’t fully embrace the level of resiliency, until I watched the film,” White said. “I had forgotten some of the daggers that they hit. That was a game when we had several opportunities to put our heads down and say, ‘This is just not our day.’ Missouri hit some timely ones and some big ones, some late-clock ones, some potential back-breakers that did not break our guys’ backs … The resiliency there is something I think we can hang our hats on.”
As crazy as it may sound, Florida needs to find a way to keep that same offensive rhythm rolling as it comes back home this week. The Gators have had a few good offensive performances in Gainesville, but for the most part, shot better overall at neutral sites and on the road.
That was evident in a season-high 17 three-pointers at Texas A&M last week.
“I think some of it is mindset where we’re at home and we’ve got to have the same mentality,” White said. “We have all these people screaming for you and it doesn’t mean we need to hit a homerun. We’ve got to settle in offensively and slow down at home, play with more poise and not be in such a hurry to make a big play.”
Florida is playing some of its best basketball of the season right now as it has rediscovered itself offensively, but a big Mississippi State team that allows just 63.5 points per game will test that at home Wednesday night.