GAINESVILLE -- A week before final exams, Florida’s men’s basketball team aced three straight tests.
The Gators (6-4) gained some much-needed confidence, sweeping a three-game, seven-day homestand by an average of 36 points in advance of Saturday’s showdown with Wake Forest (5 p.m., Fox Sports 1) at the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise.
“We’ve gotten better, we’ve improved,” UF coach Billy Donovan said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“We’re not where we need to be, but we’ve made some strides. I do think in all three of those games the margin of victory was an indication of us getting better but I also think too there were some things that those teams had very difficult time dealing with.”
The tests weren’t particularly challenging, but by throttling non-conference cupcakes Yale, Texas Southern and Jacksonville the Gators finally discovered an offensive identity before a key stretch of games to close out their non-conference slate.
Their ball movement was much better (55 assists during the homestand), their tempo faster and they straightened out some woeful shooting mechanics that plagued the team several close losses to start the year.
The pace and space offense worked.
“I think we are probably getting a little bit of a better understanding of where our shots are coming from, and when,” Donovan said.
“I think the other part of it too is just being disciplined and fundamental in terms of how they shoot the basketball. I think there’s not a player out there that when they shoot the ball doesn’t want it to go in, and once the ball leaves your hands you don’t have any control. All you can control is getting a good rep. And some of the struggles we’ve had shooting the basketball, I think some if we’ve had some pretty decent shots but I think in a lot of parts our guys were undisciplined in a lot of ways and trying to get them to understand the importance of being disciplined and fundamental shooting the basketball.”
Florida struggled to score consistently against stiff competition (Miami, North Carolina, Kansas) early in the season, ranking last in the conference in scoring offense (63.5 points a game) just two weeks ago.
But following lengthy film sessions and a renewed focus on fundamentals, UF is now lightening it up from the perimeter.
The Gators shot 46 percent from 3-point range during their three-game winning streak. They hit just 30 percent of their shots from downtown the first seven games of the season.
“It’s a natural process,” senior center Jon Horford said. “We’re getting more comfortable, understanding how to get shots, where to get shots, what’s a good shot, what’s not a good shot. It’s leading to a more efficient offense.”
The Demon Deacons (5-5) rank No. 217 nationally in scoring defense (68.5 ppg), so the Gators have another opportunity to continue their hot shooting.
Juniors Dorian Finney-Smith (12.3 ppg) and Michael Frazier (15.2 ppg) are Florida’s lone two players averaging double figures, but the Gators’ offensive boom has been spearheaded by the elvated play of sophomore point guard Kasey Hill, freshman swingman Devin Robinson and sophomore forward Chris Walker.
“I think our ball movement has been really good, and I think that’s been important,” Donovan said.
“I think we’ve screened better. And I think guys are making the extra pass. All those things have probably contributed and factored into it.”
THIS & THAT
UF returns to the Orange Bowl Classic for the 16th time, winning four straight games at the event. … Florida State and South Florida open the doubleheader-event with a 2 p.m. tipoff. The Gators and Seminoles will square off Dec. 30 in Tallahassee. … Wake Forest freshman guard Mitchell Wilbekin is the younger brother of former UF star Scottie Wilbekin, the 2014 SEC Player of the Year. … UF forward Alex Murphy, a mid-season transfer from Duke, could be make his season debut with Florida on Saturday if fall semester grades are posted in time.