Gators find a way to finish

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Florida forward Kevarrius Hayes scores against LSU during Wednesday's game in Gainesville. (Lauren Bacho/The Gainesville Sun]

Every college basketball team has its flaws. Every one of them has its weaknesses. Every coach knows them and tries to either exploit them or cover them up, depending on who signs his paycheck.

Can’t shoot. Can’t defend. Bad shot selection under pressure. Poor at the free throw line.

But the one flaw — the one issue — that cannot be stomached by a coach or its fan base is that a team doesn’t play hard.

The Gators are sometimes flawed in that way.

But not Wednesday night.

Against an LSU team that is typical of the lower half of the SEC (good enough to beat you), the Gators might have played harder than they’ve played all season.

“Yep,” said UF coach Mike White when I asked him about it. “Probably two or three others stand out. At Rupp (Arena). In New York (against Cincinnati).

“I don’t know why we can’t do that every single day. I don’t know why we can’t do it at 2:30 every day in practice. There’s a wall that is very difficult for this team to break through. We climb over the wall and then we climb back over it.”

And we’ll see which side of the wall they decide to be on the rest of the season.

But against LSU, there was no doubt about the commitment level of a team that was hurting after a 17-point second half against Alabama on Saturday.

“We wanted to keep from getting embarrassed again,” said Keith Stone.

Instead, the Gators got a much-needed win by willing it so. And that’s what really matters this time of year.

Not the stats. Not what the other team shot or how many free throws you missed. Not the points per game average or what the bench scored.

Did you win?

Pure and simple.

And they did. But only because they played their tails off.

Because you could feel the monster coming.

It is an ugly blob with apathy for brains and a moping expression on its face. It is Failure to Finish and it has had its own locker in the UF dressing room at times this season.

The double-digit lead in the second half had morphed into a one-point deficit. We’d seen this movie before and it was a bad horror flick.

LSU was making tough shot after tough shot. It was knocking down ridiculous 3s even when the Gators were defending at a high level.

“It was not healthy for us as a staff,” White said. “I definitely lost some hair during the game.”

He also lost his jacket, the one he refused to discard when Florida got off to a fast start in SEC play. Three straight conference losses will retire a superstition.

But this was not a game that would be decided by luck. In the last seven minutes, it would be decided by effort.

“We control our own effort,” said center Kevarrius Hayes. “We definitely stepped it up.”

As the Rowdies and other fans began to mentally replay the seven previous blown second-half leads that resulted in losses, the Gators instead took control of the game.

They limited LSU, which had made 9-of-10 shots in taking the lead, to 2-from-11 the rest of the way.

And the Gators finished.

They finished at the rim and they finished off the game.

Florida scored 34 points in the paint as LSU followed the now universal scouting report of running the Gators off the 3-point line.

“They were 1-4 at home in games where they made seven or less threes,” said LSU coach Will Wade. “But Hudson took over down the stretch.”

That would be Jalen Hudson, who led all scorers with 18 points and all rebounders with nine. There have been times this season when Hudson has been a defensive liability and, in his last two games, he was 6-for-24 shooting.

But Wednesday night.

Wow.

“That’s as hard as he’s played,” White said. “If we play that hard every night and that together every night, we have a chance every night.”

That’s all you ask for.

Play hard. Give yourself a chance.

The stats don’t matter anymore. Take Chris Chiozza. He scored three points and had four turnovers, but he has no rear end because he defended it off.

“Chiozza led the charge,” Wade said and his point guard’s stats were ones that DID matter.

Tremont Waters is a freshman who has been dazzling the league. He was 3-for-15 with seven turnovers.

“He wasn’t himself,” Wade said. “He ran into a senior guard.”

And the senior guard ran into him.

We are now 24 games into this season and this team is pretty much a known. What we don’t know is what the effort level will be for 40 minutes.

We only know what it was on Wednesday night.

And that Florida won.

Which is all that really matters.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

23 COMMENTS

  1. This team has a problem with their S&C program. Saw the same thing last fall They shouldn’t be wearing out in the second half. Part of it may be nutrition. Also the training staff is doing a lousy job rehabbing the injured players.

    • I’m assuming you’re in on their workouts and rehab sessions personally. Or, perhaps, you’re just throwing out garbage statements.

      • Yes, boyfriend’s Gator Derangement Syndrome is worsening. He appears to assume that Gator fans feel we have a National Championship caliber basketball team this year and is out to disprove otherwise.

        We see a team with many flaws who is on the NCAA bubble.

        Get the Psychiatric help I suggested boyfriend. Dr. Winters in Daytona. I’m a physician trust me. Take two aspirin and call Dr. Winters in the morning.

          • You have posted under three different names in this comment section alone. Multiple Personality Disorder is actually a more concerning condition than your various Derangement syndromes. Seek help Boyfriend.

    • It’s a helluva lot better than “Going forward”, “Having just said that” or “Now, at this point in time”!

  2. Florida, without question, early in the season was a potential Final Four team. Now, it’s looking very much like they will not even make the NCAA tourney! The AD will take a lot heat if he decides to retain the boy-faced, overmatched White. His record this year indicates he is the worst coach in the league.

    • I’ll take our young Mr. White over your Hamilton any day. White has a high ceiling. Hamilton, not so much, obviously.

    • Was Purdue considered a premier team before the season with a chance to go to the Final 4? Did anyone predict the home losses of Kansas? North Carolina has 7 losses. You don’t know shit….and just keep hating and changing the narrative. If you say a team will lose every game, which you do…and they lose in a good league, that somehow makes you knowledgeable? Speaking of Hamilton…he screwed up with a legit Final Four talent team LAST year with his ridiculous rotations. That said, he is a solid coach because most who know the game understand how hard a Final 8 is, let alone a Final 4. Ask Gene Kaedy…

      • Purdue has lost 2 as a favorite. Kansas lost 4 as a favorite. UNC has lost 4 as a favorite. Florida’s snowflake, Michelle White, has dropped SEVEN as a favorite and, at season’s end, that number will be about 12! No Div. 1 coach in the last 25 years will have lost that many games when favored! Oh, by the way, Vegas can verify the above. The word “favored” really does mean something. Enjoy her now — she won’t be around after next season. “Good league,” by the way, has not a damned thing to do with what we’re talking about. White’s favored, he loses many! Another example would be to look at what the new coach at Ohio St. has done — and then look at our sorry-a** coach!

  3. Georgia might be the Gators’ only win from here on out. If they do win two, it looks like the other one would have to be against a mediocre Kentucky, in Gainesville, to end the regular season. So, the question is: How do they make the NCAA tourney with 13 losses? Well, they effing don’t!! Nice job, Mike White! Prepare for Montana St. in the first round of the NIT.

    • This wasn’t me. This was boyfriend using his fourth different screen name in this comment section alone. Boyfriend, your Gator Derangement Syndrome is worsening. Show me on this doll where you were punched by that the mean kid in high school that got accepted to UF while your application was soundly rejected.

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