Every college basketball team has its flaws. Every one of them has its weaknesses. Every coach knows them and tries to either exploit them or cover them up, depending on who signs his paycheck.
Can’t shoot. Can’t defend. Bad shot selection under pressure. Poor at the free throw line.
But the one flaw — the one issue — that cannot be stomached by a coach or its fan base is that a team doesn’t play hard.
The Gators are sometimes flawed in that way.
But not Wednesday night.
Against an LSU team that is typical of the lower half of the SEC (good enough to beat you), the Gators might have played harder than they’ve played all season.
“Yep,” said UF coach Mike White when I asked him about it. “Probably two or three others stand out. At Rupp (Arena). In New York (against Cincinnati).
“I don’t know why we can’t do that every single day. I don’t know why we can’t do it at 2:30 every day in practice. There’s a wall that is very difficult for this team to break through. We climb over the wall and then we climb back over it.”
And we’ll see which side of the wall they decide to be on the rest of the season.
But against LSU, there was no doubt about the commitment level of a team that was hurting after a 17-point second half against Alabama on Saturday.
“We wanted to keep from getting embarrassed again,” said Keith Stone.
Instead, the Gators got a much-needed win by willing it so. And that’s what really matters this time of year.
Not the stats. Not what the other team shot or how many free throws you missed. Not the points per game average or what the bench scored.
Did you win?
Pure and simple.
And they did. But only because they played their tails off.
Because you could feel the monster coming.
It is an ugly blob with apathy for brains and a moping expression on its face. It is Failure to Finish and it has had its own locker in the UF dressing room at times this season.
The double-digit lead in the second half had morphed into a one-point deficit. We’d seen this movie before and it was a bad horror flick.
LSU was making tough shot after tough shot. It was knocking down ridiculous 3s even when the Gators were defending at a high level.
“It was not healthy for us as a staff,” White said. “I definitely lost some hair during the game.”
He also lost his jacket, the one he refused to discard when Florida got off to a fast start in SEC play. Three straight conference losses will retire a superstition.
But this was not a game that would be decided by luck. In the last seven minutes, it would be decided by effort.
“We control our own effort,” said center Kevarrius Hayes. “We definitely stepped it up.”
As the Rowdies and other fans began to mentally replay the seven previous blown second-half leads that resulted in losses, the Gators instead took control of the game.
They limited LSU, which had made 9-of-10 shots in taking the lead, to 2-from-11 the rest of the way.
And the Gators finished.
They finished at the rim and they finished off the game.
Florida scored 34 points in the paint as LSU followed the now universal scouting report of running the Gators off the 3-point line.
“They were 1-4 at home in games where they made seven or less threes,” said LSU coach Will Wade. “But Hudson took over down the stretch.”
That would be Jalen Hudson, who led all scorers with 18 points and all rebounders with nine. There have been times this season when Hudson has been a defensive liability and, in his last two games, he was 6-for-24 shooting.
But Wednesday night.
“That’s as hard as he’s played,” White said. “If we play that hard every night and that together every night, we have a chance every night.”
That’s all you ask for.
Play hard. Give yourself a chance.
The stats don’t matter anymore. Take Chris Chiozza. He scored three points and had four turnovers, but he has no rear end because he defended it off.
“Chiozza led the charge,” Wade said and his point guard’s stats were ones that DID matter.
Tremont Waters is a freshman who has been dazzling the league. He was 3-for-15 with seven turnovers.
“He wasn’t himself,” Wade said. “He ran into a senior guard.”
And the senior guard ran into him.
We are now 24 games into this season and this team is pretty much a known. What we don’t know is what the effort level will be for 40 minutes.
We only know what it was on Wednesday night.
And that Florida won.
Which is all that really matters.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.