Gators come up too short
Published: Sunday, March 1, 2009 at 11:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 1, 2009 at 11:33 p.m.
The comebacks were furious, the intensity thick and the crowd violently loud. But in the end, it came down to the one thing Florida can’t bring to any arena in the country.
The one thing that may cause them to play in back-to-back NITs.
Length. Or a lack of it.
It was the reason Tennessee was able to hold on to beat Florida 79-75, a body blow to this team’s chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.
“We are long,” said Vols coach Bruce Pearl. “Length was a factor.”
It was a factor when Tennessee jumped out to a 15-point first half lead. It didn’t help that the officials were digesting their whistles while Tennessee was playing physical.
“We played on our heels the first 10 minutes,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
Florida cut it to two and then length took over again as Tennessee scored twice inside.
It was a factor when Tennessee again took a 15-point lead in the second half. And after Florida gobbled up most of the lead, it was the deciding factor in the game.
There were less than three minutes left and Florida, down four, needed a stop. The Gators managed two. It turned out they needed three. After a pair of Vol misses ended up in Tennessee’s possession, the Vols prepared for an inbounds play. All they did was lob the ball to 6-foot-9 Wayne Chism under the basket and he easily put the shot in over Nick Calathes.
Florida cut the lead to three on a pair of Calathes’ free throws, but Chism struck again, too long for the Gator interior defenders. He made a short shot that wasn’t challenged to up the lead to five.
And then, with Florida trailing by three, the Gators executed a play to get 5-foot-7 guard Erving Walker an open three. Trouble was 6-7 Scotty Hopson recognized that Walker’s man had been screened and jumped out to deflect the shot.
Length won again.
“I thought I was open,” Walker said. “He made a great play.”
Length was also one of the reasons Florida fell into such big holes in the game and had to chase down big leads in both halves. If Florida extended its defense, the interior match-ups were ugly. If they dropped back to help, the 3s were wide open.
Even though it’s mind-boggling that Tennessee could be last in the SEC in 3-point shooting yet make 22 in two games against the Gators, it just points to one of the many deficiencies of this team.
Asked why the Vols made 7-of-9 3s in the first half, Dan Werner said, “It’s obvious. The way we play defense.”
So in a way, this result and the one in Knoxville are perfectlyunderstandable. Tennessee is a bad match-up for Florida the way Vanderbilt is a good one.
“Athletically, when they needed to get something done,” said Billy Donovan, “they got it done.”
The problem is that Florida isn’t going to get any longer, get any more athletic down this all important stretch. Somehow, the Gators have to find a way to win these close games, make the big plays with what they have.
Donovan’s team came into these last two games with a chance to make some noise that the NCAA Committee would hear. Instead, the Gators lost to a very good LSU team and a good Tennessee team with a healthy RPI. Both teams had something in common. They weren’t just longer than Florida, they were way longer than Florida.
Time is running out on UF’s resume. Florida is now in a position where it has to win the last two games to have a shot at playing somewhere besides the NIT in the post-season.
“I’ve always believed in order to do something special there has to be an special opportunity to present itself,” Donovan said.
It’s still there. The SEC East race is not over. The NCAA Tournament is still within reach.
It’s just that margin of error has gone from slim to none.
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