Early in the new season, the new 3-point line is doing nothing to dissuade Florida from launching long-distance shots.
The 18th-ranked Gators look to continue filling the basket from long range and improve to 3-0 for the seventh consecutive season when they host Southern Utah on Thursday night.
Though the NCAA moved the men’s 3-point arc back a full foot to 20 feet, nine inches this season in an effort to make the shot more difficult, Florida (2-0) has made shooting from beyond the arc look easy in winning its first two games. The Gators have made 21 3-pointers, including a 14-of-32 effort from the perimeter in Sunday’s 81-58 victory over Bradley.
Florida’s final eight field goals made were 3-pointers.
“We would have liked to have done a little more in and around the basket, but with the way Bradley played defensively it really opened up for us to shoot the ball,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said after his team scored more than half its points from beyond the arc. “I think we won the game today because of the 3-point line.”
Junior forward Dan Werner and senior guard Walter Hodge each scored 17 points to lead the Gators. Hodge went 5-for-9 from 3-point range, Werner was 4-for-6 and sophomore guard Nick Calathes made 3 of 6 attempts. Those three players have combined for 17 of the team’s 3-pointers, with each member of the trio shooting 50 percent or better from long range.
“This whole time I’m feeling confident in my shot,” said Werner, who scored a team-high 19 points in last Friday’s season opener, an 80-58 win over Toledo. “My teammates are confident. I’m just letting it fly.”
After defeating Bradley, the Gators improved to 52-6 under Donovan in the month of November, including a 37-1 mark at home. Against the Thunderbirds (1-0) from the unheralded Summit League, Florida appears to have a good shot at further improving both of those marks.
The Gators have never faced Southern Utah. They won their only previous game against a team from the Summit, beating North Dakota State 75-65 on Nov. 9, 2007.
The Thunderbirds struggled to an 11-19 record in 2007-08, but opened this season on a positive note Saturday with an 85-73 victory at home over Division II Mesa State. Senior center John Clifford made all eight of his field goal attempts and finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and three blocks - all career highs.
“He’s been with us going on four years now and we have watched him improve every year,” Southern Utah coach Roger Reid said of Clifford. “We said going into the season this was going to be the year he needed to step up and tonight he did.”
After this contest, Florida will face stiffer challenges when it travels to Kansas City for next week’s semifinals of the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic. The Gators will face Syracuse on Monday, with a potential finals matchup against reigning national champion Kansas looming the following night.