Lack of options put Gators in this position


Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 1:18 a.m.

It must be Matt Walsh's fault, right?

After all, Florida goes 3-0 in the SEC without Walsh and loses its first conference game with Walsh making a surprising recovery to play 13 minutes Wednesday night.

Except cause and effect isn't that simple in basketball.

Florida lost in overtime to schizophrenic Tennessee because the Vols made some big shots, got some big calls and showed the same kind of character Florida did a week ago in an OT win at Auburn.

It won because Florida struggled to defend the 3-point line, especially at the start of overtime.

But mostly, the Vols won because they had options.

We're talking offense here and Tennessee had three players score at least 18 points. Florida had one score more than 11 points.

You didn't have to see or hear the game to know who that was. Once again, the Gators jumped on Anthony Roberson's back. After scoring 65 points in two wins, Roberson was more than willing to shoulder the load again.

But he took it to the extreme. And in this game, on a night when it seemed like the more he missed the more he shot, his 26 points came with a price.

Roberson shot 26 times. There have been players who haven't shot that many times in a month. In a season. In a career.

He said he would have taken 29 shots if that's what was needed to win. The upset of the night might have been that he actually had an assist in the game.

"There were probably some that were ill-advised," said Florida coach Billy Donovan. "But I can't fault him. If not for Peep, we wouldn't have come into this game 3-0."

True that, but there haven't been a lot of teams who have gone far with only one scoring option (see: LSU with Pete Maravich).

Roberson was off against the Vols, 4-of-15 at one point. Still, he kept firing and made a deep three over two players to send the game into overtime.

Florida had no business being in overtime. They had been outplayed and outshot. But the Gators seemed poised to steal one at home thanks to Roberson's shot and the play of the freshmen.

The four freshmen again played their roles. But what Florida needed more than anything against Tennessee was someone to take on the role of wing man.

Walsh eventually will return to that role, but Wednesday night he was both tentative and anxious at the same time, if that's possible. The ankle obviously isn't all the way back, but Walsh still found a way to take six shots and have three turnovers in 13 minutes.

"This loss has nothing to do with Matt Walsh," Donovan said.

Of course, it wasn't. It was about a lack of balance. It was about only one player other than Walsh and Roberson taking as many as six shots.

It was about a team somehow getting to overtime, then making two baskets - one of them on a steal and a lay-in - in the extra five minutes.

"We need to be more balanced," Donovan said. "We had been making things easier for each other. That didn't happen."

Instead, Roberson felt like he had to do it all by himself. After all, it had been that way in the last two games, his scoring catapulting the Gators to a pair of road wins.

And it wasn't like the points were coming from anywhere else (with the exception of Joakim Noah, who scored nine points but played only 11 minutes).

So he forced a pair of late 3-pointers in overtime that would have brought the house down if they had fallen. Instead, they missed as 11 others did on the night. When it was over, he would have set a school record with 18 shots from beyond the arc.

I didn't look this up, but I'm pretty sure the five he made didn't break any marks.

Florida has a week before its next game, time for Roberson to rest his wing and possibly get Walsh back to where he needs to be health-wise to give Florida another option.

"Peep can't do it by himself," Walsh said.

Not that he hasn't tried.

You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can hear The Pat Dooley Hour each weekday from 11 a.m. to noon on The Star 99.5-FM.

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