After his team’s 96-56 drubbing against Kentucky Wednesday afternoon, North Florida head coach Matthew Driscoll has identified what he sees as a key component to a successful remainder of the season for these Wildcats.

Driscoll was an assistant coach at Baylor and Clemson for a total of 11 seasons. He has been in the business for 35 years and is in his 14th season as head coach of the Ospreys, who he said had just played their 91st “guaranteed money” game – where a lesser respected team travels to play against a highly acclaimed opponent to compete and gets a check in exchange for the expected beating – during his tenure at the school.

After that particular cash game, Driscoll wanted to talk about “the Reeves kid – number 12.”

That would be Antonio Reeves, who had just lost 20 points on his Ospreys.

“I’ve seen a lot of good players. He’s as good a three-point shooter and as good a three-point finder as there is anywhere in the country,” said Driscoll. “If he doesn’t have a three, he’ll find a three with a step backwards or a split. Many boys are thrown off course and then no longer get into a rhythm. And I think that’s what makes Reeves so special.”

Driscoll further predicted that Reeves’ ability to get open shots and then make them will be a key to the rest of the Wildcats season. He was certainly a difference maker on Wednesday.

Reeves made his first start as a Kentucky player after transferring from Illinois State in the offseason and coming off the bench in the Cats’ first five games, making his first three-pointer of the day less than 90 seconds from the opening tip. He made three more three-pointers – all in a 2-minute, 7-second flurry – to end the half-time. By the break, he had 18 points and had been shooting 4-for-5 from deep and 7-for-9 from the field. He was active on offense, not only looking for long-range shots, but also attacking the basket. He didn’t hit a bucket after half-time, but it really didn’t matter. The game was over before the two teams came out of the dressing room for the second half, by which point the Cats went up to a 54-23 lead. Reeves ended the first half with a hard-hitting three to set the lead for Kentucky’s biggest halftime advantage in eight years.

“It felt great, man,” he said. “Just get out there and feel good. Being me. And my team-mates included me in the game.”

The way he can play on offense makes it easier for those around him.

Driscoll said he noticed Reeve’s ability to open up while watching a film about the Wildcats leading into Wednesday’s game. Even before his team was terrorized by him in the Rupp Arena, he was visibly impressed by the senior guard.

The performance couldn’t have come at a better time for Reeves, who entered Wednesday’s pre-Thanksgiving matinee after going off the field 8-for-29 in his last three games. That included a 7-1 performance in Kentucky’s double overtime loss to Michigan State eight days earlier and a 4-13 performance in another loss to Gonzaga Sunday night.

Reeves said he went back to the gym to start taking those games, particularly the Gonzaga trip, back in time this week. His 22nd birthday was also a Sunday and as he has gotten older his perspective has changed allowing him to walk away from nights like this and get better results.

“I think that just comes with maturity,” he said. “I came to college as a freshman sophomore — it bothered me a bit. But as you get older, you know you’re a basketball player, and you know you’re going to have games like that. So just mature and go to the gym every day and focus on getting better for the team and for yourself.”

Its impressive three-point “finder” ability is also relatively new.

Like much of Reeves’ offensive arsenal, he said he didn’t really have that talent in his first two collegiate seasons. As he entered his junior year at Illinois State, he hit the gym and began working more and more on every aspect of his game. The results were instant. He increased his three-point shooting from 30.9 percent in his first two seasons to 39.0 percent as a junior, despite receiving more attention from opposing defenses as the Redbirds’ clear top-scoring threat.

Reeves said to be able to sniff out those open shots it comes down to getting into a rhythm, maintaining good footwork, knowing your own moves and being able to read defenders.

It’s a combination that should pay dividends for the Cats this season. After Wednesday’s game, Reeves is now 20-to-43 from three-point range. That’s 46.5 percent.

“The rim has gotten bigger for me,” he said of his last outing. “And I just kept shooting at the ball. shoot shooters. I definitely have that mentality that goes into every game.”

Next game

Bellarmine at No. 15 Kentucky

When: Tuesday 7 p.m

Records: Bellarmine 2-4, Kentucky 4-2

Series: First Encounter

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