When it was over, Georgia’s Juwan Parker stood in the middle of the floor and waved goodbye to the Rowdy Reptiles. Soon, he may be waving goodbye to his coach as well, but for this night, Georgia basketball was celebrating and Florida basketball was trying to come to grips with a brutal loss.
And make no mistake about it, for all of the losses this Florida basketball team has suffered in an uneven season, this was the hardest one to take.
You’d rather get blown out than watch one slip away like this one.
When Chris Chiozza missed the final, desperation 3-point shot to finish off a stunning 2-for-14 night of shooting, he went into the squat-of-despair position.
That pretty much summed it up for everyone wearing orange and blue very late on Wednesday night.
A crowd that was as hoarse from booing the men in striped shirts as it was from cheering fell silent and traipsed off into the night without the cherry on their Valentine’s sundaes.
This game seemed so won.
How could it have been lost so suddenly?
This is what we have in college basketball and it’s why we watch sports, because it’s not an episode of the Real Housewives where everything is scripted.
Weird things happen and weird results are the result. Georgia, which can’t beat anybody in the SEC, has now beaten Florida twice.
Coupled with Auburn’s win over Kentucky, the Gators are pretty much done when it comes to any chance to win the SEC. It was a bit of a pipedream anyway with the schedule the Gators have in the last two weeks.
Now, the survival instinct has to kick in.
The Gators are four games into the February grind, and it is a grind, as illustrated by their 2-2 record in this month. February may be the shortest month, but it’s the longest month for a basketball team.
November brings the excitement of the start of a season. December usually means you’re traveling to exotic places like Maui or the Bahamas or Newark.
In January, the conference games are still fresh. But in February, you face the combination of playing teams sometimes for a second time in the season and the knowledge that March is out there.
We all know that teams are defined by what they do in tournament play and teams sometimes struggle when they can smell the Madness, but it still seems a long way off.
It’s in February where you find out a lot about basketball teams. It’s one of the reasons we see upsets on a nightly basis, as players start thinking about seeding and begin to check bracketologists.
But you have to grind through it like a waiter with a pepper mill because March is set up by the work you do in February.
And this was the ultimate grind-it-out game. Florida was grinding all night. But the Gators didn’t grind it out all the way.
Instead, a team that had made two 3-point shots the entire game made three in a row in desperation to force overtime.
And then in overtime … well, don’t ask. You miss five free throws in overtime, you get what you deserve.
The Gators had been fighting through everything from the subpar performance from its best player to as bizarrely an officiated game as we’ve seen this year.
But every time it looked like Florida might be ready to pull away and breathe, Georgia and its coach on the hottest seat in the league (now that Andy Kennedy is done) put its fight mode into high gear.
It’s not that Georgia is a bad team. It just has had a lot of bad results. It also is 2-0 against Florida.
Because nobody grinds like Georgia. Florida found that out again Wednesday night.
You guard like madmen for three straight possessions and they score on the fourth. You hit a couple of shots and feel good about yourselves and they tighten up the defense like thumbscrews.
And when it gets right down to it, if you haven’t done enough, a late turnover and a couple of crazy 3s can doom you.
But here’s the thing a heartbroken team has to realize.
There’s a lot more grinding left to do.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.