The Gators need to be a more consistent 3-point shooting team, and Florida simply must rebound the ball better. But one need that may trump them all is for senior guard Walter Hodge to become more of a threat on a nightly basis.
Hodge is averaging eight points a game this season and has scored in double figures just four times in Florida's first nine games. In those games Hodge has averaged 14 points and the Gators scored 85. Florida won all four of those contests. In the other five games, Hodge scores just 3.2 and the team averages just 72. The Gators are 3-2 in those contests. It's pretty clear that when Hodge is involved, the Gators are a more difficult team to defend.
Hodge averaged 10.4 points a game last season, and his 824 career points is tops among current Gators. When he's scoring, defenses cannot close the lane as quickly on Nick Calathes and that gives Florida's point guard more options and more room in which to operate.
Florida Coach Billy Donovan talked about Hodge's play this year.
"Walter really plays inside the team," Donovan said. "One of the things that's great coaching him is he's not a guy who gets wrapped up on a whole lot of shot attempts. I think we've all be around players who are always looking to see how many they took. I don't think that's ever been Walter's case. I think Walter needs to be treated a little bit like Lee Humphrey was treated in that guys found him when he was open. We've got to be a team that makes the extra pass and utilizes each other."
Donovan said Hodge's better games, like his teammates' better games have to come from the flow of the game and getting the right opportunities to score.
"Kind of like Alex Tyus in the UMKC game where he was the recipient of a lot of passes and got some dunks and had 25 points," he said. "I think Walter against Gulf Coast was a similar situation in that he happened to be at the end of plays and our guys did a good job of finding him and getting him some good looks at the basket. We need to continue to do it. There's no question that Walter going into a game and only getting two or three shots is not a good thing for us. We need to get him the ball more."
Hodge and freshman Erving Walker get most of the time at the shooting guard position for the Gators. That's an unusual situation in that both are comparatively short for the position. Donovan pointed out that the lack of height at that spot means the Gators have to work harder to get those guys looks.
"Because of his size and Erving Walker's size it's hard to just run a play to get those guys a shot," Donovan said. "They are going to have to move without the ball a little bit. Our guys are going to have to do a good job finding them and screening for them at the appropriate time."
Hodge is a quiet kid on and off the floor and it's not his nature to "demand" the ball from his teammates. He credited them with his 19-point effort against Gulf Coast.
"I think the guys did a great job in the last game finding me and I hit open shots," Hodge said. "I have to be more aggressive on the offensive end and try to help my team win games. I have to be in the vision of the guys. I know that Nick is a great play maker so I have to be in his vision to get open shots."
The Gators return to action in Jacksonville Saturday in a game with UCF. Mark Wise will join me for the call of the game on Fox Sports Florida. It'll be our first men's basketball game together.
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