UF is having a difficult time shaking off that losing feeling

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

To all of you in the next office space, restaurant line or barstool who said it to me, well, I told you so. You know who you are and you know what you said back in the second week of February.

"I think it would help Florida to lose a game. You don't want all of that pressure heading into the tournament."

And my response was simply, "Poppycock!" I've never believed that losing is a good thing in any way. That "losing was good for us" mentality is coachspeak turned into urban legend. Losing in not good in any way.

Now, in orange and blue, you're seeing why.

It's like that pipsqueak psychologist told the New York Knights in The Natural — "Losing is a disease."

Once you lose, your cloak of invulnerability is ripped away. You lose the edge. A corner of your confidence is crumbled away as if it was a block of bleu cheese.

You have a hard time shaking off the losing feeling. You succumb to adversity rather than battle through it.

So remember this two-week stretch of Gator basketball the next time someone says to you about some team, "It would be good for them to lose one."

It never is.

But that doesn't explain what is going on with these Gators right now, losers of three and more and without a really top-notch, full-game performance in almost three weeks.

So I offer the Seven Deadly Sins, the reasons for Florida's sudden slump.

1. Karma — Big believer, I am (why am I sounding like Yoda?) I remember after the BCS National Title Game a conversation with UF athletic director Jeremy Foley. He said someone had mentioned that the Gators were sure on a roll "Why does it have to stop?" Foley asked.

Well, because it does. The karma has been incredible around this program for the last 14 months or so. It had to wear off didn't it?

Maybe it's Rex's fault. Think about it. Everything is going right until the Super Bowl. Since then, the basketball team is 4-3, the baseball team is .500 and the women's basketball coach was fired. Seriously, Peyton Manning was at the game Tuesday night and Florida lost to Tennessee. That never happens. The karma may have shifted.

2. They're tired — I can't buy into the Gators being physically tired. The staff has done a good job of making sure the players get their rest with more days off and shorter practices late in the season. And why would Florida be more tired although it is true that the Gators have played two more games than all but one team in the conference. Problem is, that team is Tennessee and the Vols didn't look tired.

I can buy into the theory that they are mentally worn out from taking so many of the best shots their opponents have had to give. And that the constant attention, whether it be from fans, media, third uncles or agents, does appear to be a factor. It seemed to peak at Kentucky and that's when Florida started to really struggle, after that game.

It's gotta be getting old to have every school saving its big promotions like putting an old woman in a cheerleading uniform or passing out T-shirts to everybody. But that doesn't explain going down by 18 and 27 the last two games.

3. Maybe they're not that good — I know, I know, that's blasphemy around here. But remember that before last season we wondered if that team would make the NCAA Tournament. These guys overachieved last year and earlier this year. Maybe they've just settled down to where their true talent level is as the competition has heated up.

4. Playing for nothing — Sure there is a No. 1 seed on the line, but other than that what exactly are the Gators playing for right now? The two worst performances of the season came right after UF clinched the outright SEC regular season title.

A colleague said to me after the Gators beat South Carolina and started climbing ladders to cut down the nets, "That's going to bite them in the ass." I shrugged it off, but maybe he was right. Maybe that net-cutting went to their heads.

The solution? Before Sunday's game with Kentucky, bring ladders onto the court and put the nets back up.

5. Making shots — Even when Florida made its great run last year and even earlier this year, I made a mental note of how many wide-open shots from the opposition were clanging off the rim. Defense sometimes gets too much credit for missed shots. It seems that lately, nobody can miss even when the defense is good.

But the defense hasn't been very good in stretches which builds the confidence of the opposition.

6. Guard play — You can't be an effective team unless you're getting production from both the frontcourt and the backcourt. Florida's starting guards are both struggling terribly in the last four games.

During that stretch, Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green have combined to shoot 26 percent. And during the last four games they have combined to have 10 assists. That's 1.25 per player per game. Comparatively, Green has 13 turnovers during that stretch.

7. It's a team — When Florida has been at its best, it has been a five-man show. But only Al Horford seems to have come to play among the starters the last two weeks.

In those four games, Horford has 63 points, grabbed 39 rebounds and blocked 12 shots. Those are the kind of numbers Joakim Noah put up during the NCAA Tournament last year. But he had help. Horford's not getting much. Corey Brewer, everybody's match-up problem, is having a hard time matching up with the ball. He has 18 turnovers in the last four games.

Whether it's some of these reasons or all of them, it's clear there is something not quite right with this team right now. It's also clear that right now doesn't matter. What matters is what's remaining.

Contact Pat Dooley at 374-5053 or dooleyp@gvillesun.com.

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