One of the hallmarks of the University of Florida basketball team this season has been its share-the-wealth approach to offense.
If one or two players have an off-night, the others pick up the slack. Eight players have been the leading scorer in games this season. Six have had 20-point games.
But life sure seems to be easier for the Gators if first-team All-SEC sophomore shooting guard KeVaughn Allen has a good night.
Allen has led Florida (24-8) in scoring most of the season and carries a 13.9 per-game average into Thursday’s first-round NCAA tournament game against East Tennessee State (27-7) at the Amway Center in Orlando.
Allen has been dangerous from the outside where he is the team’s most prolific 3-point shooter and third in the SEC (.399 on 178 attempts, 60 more than the next player on the list, Canyon Barry).
He also rivals point guard Kasey Hill as the team’s best slasher to the basket. Allen’s bursts to the rim and ability to get the ball up and over the tangle of arms in traffic, have sometimes been just as effective a momentum swing as one of his NBA-range 3s.
The only problem is that Allen sometimes disappears. He’s had six games in which he scored less than 10 points, 15 games in which he’s had less than 10 field-goal attempts and 10 games in which he’s attempted three or fewer 3-point shots.
Allen is a team-first player and has been since he set foot on campus from Little Rock, Ark., last year and finished second in scoring with 11.6 points per game. But his teammates have sometimes had to prod him into shooting more, recognizing that Allen would be helping the team more if he jacked the ball up a bit more.
“Me being aggressive helps the team,” he admitted earlier this week during a news conference in Gainesville. “But I have to play smart as well.”
Florida coach Mike White said as much as he’d want Allen to take more 3-pointers, he wants him to think more of taking the ball to the basket.
“We want to see KeVaughn attacking the rim, and we’re on him every day about that,” White said. “We want him to be as aggressive as anybody.”
Allen has actually played better since a mid-season slump in which his six single-digit scoring games came within a 10-game span. In Florida’s last seven games, Allen has averaged 17.0 points and is shooting an even .500 from the floor (35 of 72).
Allen also is making 45 percent of his 3-point shots (19 of 42).
Florida’s offense team-wide has suffered since the loss of center John Egbunu to a knee injury. Prior to his injury, the Gators were averaging 80.4 points per game and shooting .456 overall and .364 from beyond the 3-point arc.
In the six games since his injury (Florida has gone 3-3 in that span), the Gators are averaging 69.2 points and shooting .423 overall and .352 from the 3-point line.
Also telling is UF’s rebounding stats. Before Egbunu was hurt, the Gators averaged 37.5 rebounds, 12.0 offensively. Since the injury, they’ve averaged 36.8 rebounds per game – not that much of a difference – but are down on the offensive glass, with only 7.1 per game.
“John was getting us a couple extra possessions a game,” White said. About Egbunu’s offensive rebounding. “We’re not as aggressive … we’ve got to get back to attacking the offensive glass.”
White also pointed out that five of the six games were against Vanderbilt (twice), Kentucky, Arkansas and South Carolina, the four SEC teams other than Florida to get to the NCAA tournament. In addition, the Gators played all of those teams twice during the regular season.
“Our schedule late in the SEC was very difficult,” he said. “The teams we played twice are the best teams in the league. We were fortunate in that regard because it helped us with the seeding.”
White took the blame for the offensive stagnation and said his players may have started playing defensive more tentatively because he was harping on turnovers.
“I wanted them to be as aggressive as possible but also I didn’t want to turn that over 15 times,” he said. “And East Tennessee is great at getting you to turn it over. I know it was hard for our guys to hear me yelling, ‘value the ball.’ We want a good mix of being aggressive and being disciplined and making good decisions.”