These Gators are in need of a wake-up call
Published: Sunday, February 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 25, 2007 at 1:59 a.m.
They came into the game as polar opposites Saturday, two teams who were in the Final Four together but seemed so far apart. One playing like a team and the other playing out the string.
But two things happened at the Pete Maravich Center. With Glen "Big Baby" Davis sidelined for a second straight game, LSU looked like the squad that understood the team concept. Florida looked like a team looking to March.
As a result, bells must be going off in your heads.
Those are alarms, Gator Nation.
Because even though Florida went through an almost eerily parallel three-game stretch at the same time of last season, the Gators never looked as bad as they did on Saturday.
"I don't know what the problem is," center Al Horford said. "We're trying to find it. It's there. We were aggressive. But guys were quitting on defense and that's something that didn't happen last year."
Florida's starting guards didn't score until the last five minutes of the game. Lee Humphrey is in a slump. Taurean Green is taking bad shots and making questionable decisions.
Despite a size advantage, Florida was outrebounded 20-8 in the first half and 35-23 for the game.
Joakim Noah, the Most Outstanding Player in last year's Final Four, seems as if all of the distractions have reached into his brain. In the first five minutes, he missed a dunk, had another one blocked and lost his man on defense. He played so poorly that Billy Donovan sat him for a good chunk of the first half.
Florida missed 10 free throws and all but two of 17 3-point shots.
Now it's up to Florida to quiet the ringing.
"I don't know what's wrong with us," said Corey Brewer, who fumbled away an easy basket early in the game and had four turnovers. "We didn't play hard."
Another team came at Florida with a bundle of self-generated energy. It wasn't the crowd that got LSU going early. There was little buzz when the game started and plenty of empty seats in a sold-out arena. They had seen their team struggle all season, and without Davis, certainly the Tigers didn't have a chance against the mighty Gators.
But the truth is that LSU is a better team without Big Baby. Because without him, they play like a team instead of standing around waiting for him to beat a double-team or take long jump shots.
"Everybody played together," LSU's Tasmin Mitchell said.
If anything, Florida can take from this loss the knowledge that this is a great team when it plays hard and with an edge but not so great when they don't.
Maybe they're tired.
"Our team is a little worn down," Brewer said.
Maybe that explains why Humphrey's 3-point shots are now line drives instead of arcing beauties. Maybe that explains why Noah is struggling. Maybe that explains why LSU shot 51 percent.
Or maybe they just needed a reminder of how they won the SEC and how they won it all last year.
"We let our offense affect our defense," Horford said. "We can't have that. We have to figure this out and go from there."
In the hallway at halftime, it was Horford who tried to get his teammates going when they gathered to retake the court down 13. Since this is a family newspaper, I can't tell you exactly what he said in a very loud and very angry voice. But it was along the lines of, "Let's stop this crap!"
But they didn't.
Even with LSU running down the shot clock for the last 12 minutes trying to squeeze out a victory, Florida couldn't make the stops or get the rebounds when they did. And soon, they were down 18.
There would be no comeback this time. Donovan kept searching for combinations but never found one.
"Our margin for error is a lot smaller than people give us credit for," he said.
He said he didn't see a parallel to last year when Florida lost three straight games before running off 11 in a row to win the SEC Tournament and NCAA title. But this is three straight games at the exact same point of the season where Florida has not looked like the Gators of last year or even last month.
You can look at what Florida did last year and shrug off this performance as well as the one at Vanderbilt and even the less-than-impressive win over South Carolina.
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