Gators have some growing up to do

Published: Sunday, March 4, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 5, 2012 at 12:10 a.m.

Now that it’s over, you can look back and realize it was inevitable.

Even when Florida had an early lead, even when the Gators made a second-half run and had the O-Dome rocking, you knew how it would end.

Kentucky is that good.

But it’s more than just talent that showed up Sunday in a 15-point Kentucky win.

“They know what they want to do,” Billy Donovan said of the nation’s No. 1 team. “They play the game the right way.”

Sure, Kentucky is balanced.

Yes, Kentucky is longer than the line at a beer garden bathroom.

But what I saw Sunday was a team that is smart. The Wildcats may be young, but they have great basketball IQs. And when they need to make a play, they make a play.

“We have some defensive breakdowns,” said forward Erik Murphy. “It seemed like it always happened at the wrong time.”

That’s what great teams do and, make no mistake about it, this is a great Kentucky team. The SEC may not be the best league in America, but it is competitive and to go 16-0 is quite an achievement.

The Wildcats will go into this week’s SEC Tournament as the favorite the way the Harlem Globetrotters will be favored in the O’Connell Center on Wednesday night. Florida goes in with a three-game losing streak.

“It’s not an ideal situation,” said senior Erving Walker. “But it’s a whole new season.”

Yes, but it’s the same old Gators.

The Gators who look unbeatable for stretches and undisciplined for others. All season long, Donovan has talked about his team’s maturity. And then, on Saturday morning, his leading scorer strolls into a breakfast meeting 25 minutes late.

As a result Kenny Boynton didn’t start the game. Like the Gators needed a handicap against this team.

The funny thing is the team that started three freshmen showed the maturity that the Gators have lacked all season. They didn’t get rattled by the Florida runs that had the fans in full throat. They executed their offense and cranked up their defense.

And then, with a four-point lead and nine minutes to go, they stepped on Florida’s throat, outscoring the Gators 15-4 the rest of the way.

The truth is if Florida played Kentucky 20 times, I’d bet Kentucky would win 20 times. The Wildcats are the Gators’ worst nightmare, because they are long enough to take away the 3-point shot. Boynton, Walker and Brad Beal combined to make 4-of-17 3s in a game where Florida had to shoot well to win.

Plus, there is the whole basketball IQ thing.

For example, anyone who has watched Kentucky, let alone watched hours of tape on the Wildcats, knows Terrance Jones can’t go to his right. And yet there was Murphy allowing Jones to go to his left for Kentucky’s first eight points.

Here’s an idea, when you’re on the fast break late in the half and you have Anthony Davis and his 900-foot wingspan on your hip, it might not be a good idea to serve up a shot that is as good as a turnover, Mr. Boynton. Yes, it was great to see Patric Young have a great game (21 points, nine rebounds) but it was clear after the game that the performance added to Donovan’s frustration with the center.

Florida now heads to the SEC Tournament as a four seed which means it gets a bye but it will probably get a bye-bye because it’s on Kentucky’s side of the bracket. But more than anything, as we head to the part of the season that defines a basketball team, it would be nice to see this basketball team do one thing.

Grow up.

Because it’s better late than not at all. And this season will be over quickly if it doesn’t happen.

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