Facing tough stretch, Gators no lock for Dance

Published: Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 9:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 9:20 p.m.

Some things are difficult to explain.

But I'll try.

I'll try to explain how a Florida team that has looked so good at times this year found a way to have it's brand-new platinum uniform pants pulled down around its ankles Saturday. I'll try to explain how this team can have three conference losses and two of them are to an NIT hopeful that had yet to win a road game this season.

I'll try to explain how Florida could allow a team to score 36 points in the paint. I'll try to explain how a team trying to mount a comeback can go an entire half without making any kind of a run. I'll try to explain how its best free-throw shooters could miss so many down the stretch.

And I'll try to explain how a five-point loss felt like a blowout.

Mostly, I'll try to explain how a team that was considered a Final Four contender by those who did not look deeply enough into its make-up is now being threatened by its coach with the three scarlet letters — N-I-T.

The truth is, I was thinking the same thing after Florida's loss to Tennessee. This team is no lock for the NCAA Tournament with what it has left. Two losable road games next week. Kentucky and at Vandy still looming. Did you see Georgia against Mississippi State on Saturday? That's no lock.

And I was thinking the same thing that Billy Donovan told his team during a 30-minute lecture after the game.

“There's a lot of similarities, I hate to say it, to Chandler Parson's freshman season,” Donovan said.

That team started 18-3, and we were marveling at how Donovan had lost his entire national championship team from the year before and had rebuilt a bunch of freshmen into another NCAA team.

Except, it didn't happen.

That team had a back-ended schedule and an inflated opinion of itself and ended up in the NIT. This team faces the same possibility if it doesn't get tougher physically and mentally.

“I don't know if it's a crossroads,” Donovan said, “as much as it is who are we and who do we want to be?”

Maybe it's an overreaction to a lost week. Certainly, getting spanked at Kentucky isn't an indication of how good your team is, but getting handled at home by Tennessee is an indication of how poorly it can play.

And there are reasons why Florida didn't play well. Will Yeguete's concussion and lacerated eyelid meant he played only two minutes. We knew how valuable Yeguete was to the team, but we didn't realize he was invaluable.

Add in the absence of Mike Rosario and Cody Larson, and Florida was playing with almost no bench. Maybe that explains those missed free throws late. Maybe it was fatigue.

Especially stunning were the two Kenny Boynton missed after a “foul language” technical on Tennessee's Wes Washpun with 11 seconds to go. Florida was down nine and probably not going to rally. But after his misses, Scottie Wilbekin hit a quick 3.

“I don't know what happened,” Boynton said softly after the game. “If I could go back and change it, I would.”

Still, fatigue would not explain why Tennessee was able to destroy the Gators in the first half with dribble penetration. It doesn't explain why the Gators decided not to cover the Vols' best 3-point shooter Skylar McBee. It doesn't explain why Patric Young had one rebound in 19 minutes in the first half.

This was a game of toughness, both mental and physical. Did the officials miss some calls? Hello, it's the SEC. You have to play around it. Instead, there were at least a couple of occasions when Florida players were complaining instead of playing.

Donovan said he saw this coming. He'd had to boot his team from practices last week and bring them back later.

“I've gotta do a better job getting these guys to understand what this is about,” Donovan said.

This isn't a time for panic. It's a time of reflection for this team.

“We need to find out whether we're men or boys,” said Bradley Beal.

We can't wait to find out.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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