Will it be enough?


Published: Tuesday, February 21, 2006 at 5:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 21, 2006 at 5:21 p.m.

Sophomore guard Taurean Green had the ball; Florida had a one-point lead, and just 21 seconds stood between the Gators and a road win at Arkansas that would have put Florida just one game behind Tennessee and Louisiana State in the Southeastern Conference standings.

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Florida head coach Billy Donovan shouts instructions to his players during the second half of their basketball game against Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Feb. 18, 2006. Arkansas defeated No. 10 Florida, 85-81, in overtime.

AP Photo/April L. Brown

That should have been enough…

Arkansas guard Jonathan Modica snuck up behind Green and stole the ball. Arkansas tied the game with a free throw and went on to win 85-81 in overtime.

Rewind to Feb. 8 when Florida hosted South Carolina.

The Gators were down by two points with less than a minute to play, and Florida’s sophomore forward Joakim Noah was under the basket with the ball and had a chance to tie the game.

That should have been enough…

South Carolina guard Tre Kelley slapped the ball out of Noah’s hands, and the Gamecocks recovered the ball. South Carolina went on to win 71-67.

Rewind further to Jan. 21 when the then undefeated Gators visited Knoxville, Tenn. to face the Volunteers.

With the score tied at 76 and less than 30 seconds to play, sophomore forward Corey Brewer, who was playing on a severely sprained ankle he suffered earlier in the game, stole a pass and had a two-on-one scoring situation to seal the game.

That should have been enough...

Brewer made an errant pass that was intercepted by Chris Lofton. Lofton threw the ball down the court to an open Dane Bradshaw, who made the easy lay-up. Tennessee went on to win 76-80.

In three of Florida’s four losses, the Gators had a chance to win or tie the game within the last minute of regulation play.

In all three games, Florida came up short.

Florida came up short in those opportunities, but head coach Billy Donovan isn’t focusing on the losses.

He is focusing on the fact that his team has been able to get in positions to win games at the last second.

“We’ve been right there,” Donovan said. “There have been some things that have happened that have quote, unquote been out of our control a little bit,” Donovan said. “I think our guys have put themselves in a position to win, and your not going to have them all go your way, but we’ve at least been in games and have had a chance.”

Florida’s four losses have come by a total of 18 points. That is an average of 4.5 points per game and an average of two possessions per game that went the wrong way for the Gators.

The most lopsided of the losses was a six-point defeat at the hands of South Carolina on Jan. 25, but despite the close final score, South Carolina controlled most of the game during the second half.

Florida trailed by as many 15 points in the second half of the game before an onslaught of three-pointers by Taurean Green in the last minutes brought the Gators close.

But the first South Carolina game aside, Florida is just a handful of possessions away from being 25-1, first in the SEC and a national top-five team.

“Outside of South Carolina on the road, I think our kids have played very very well,” Donovan said. “I’m very pleased with them.”

Those possessions didn’t go Florida’s way, and the Gators are now 22-4 and just outside of the nation’s top ten and just behind Tennessee and LSU in the SEC.

The Gators are two games behind the Vols and Tigers and Florida has only four conference games left with two of those games on the road.

Florida has played well this season, but that might not be enough.

A SEC regular season title and a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament may now be out of reach for the Gators, but Donovan said he expects his team to continue to play hard and finish the season strong.

“Our guys have shown up every game and played,” Donovan said. “I wouldn’t expect anything different going forward towards the end of the year.”

Last week, Donovan said a team could play well and still lose, and the Gators have lost games they have played well in, but teams have also outplayed Florida in certain areas.

The most noticeable areas of late have been rebounding and free throws.

In Florida’s four losses, they were out rebounded by opposing teams139-127. The teams that beat the gators also shot 25 more free throws (106-81) than the Gators.

That is a possible 25-point differential in series of games Florida lost by a total of 18 points.

Donovan said those stats are a big reason Florida was on the losing end of those close games.

Florida’s next test will come Wednesday night when No. 10 Tennessee visits Gainesville, and Donovan said he couldn’t say how his team will play in the rematch, but he did say he is confident his team will play with maximum effort, something the Gators have been doing all year.

“We’re not the most talented team, we’re not the best team and there’s ugly moments in games, but you’re always going to feel good as a coach when you walk off the floor coaching those guys because they are going to give you everything they have,” Donovan said. “For me, I really believe that these guys on Wednesday will go out and give everything they have.”

But will it be enough?

“Whether or not that is good enough to win the game, we’ll wait and see,” Donovan said. “And they will do the same thing again against Alabama and whether or not that is good enough to win, we’ll see. For 26 times this year, it’s been good to win 22 of them.”

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