Song remains same for Gators

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Florida guard Noah Locke shoots a 3-pointer Saturday against Kentucky at the O'Connell Center. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

The ball was released from about 25 feet on the run and for a second you flashed back to Chris Chiozza in the Garden or Chandler Parsons against South Carolina or any other of the hundreds of shots you have seen players make from long range to win a game in March.

It was a good look, which is all you can ask for on a buzzer-shot. 

Had it gone in, all would have been forgiven.

The blown 18-point lead.

Kentucky playing harder and smarter down the stretch.

The rebounding that became invisible.

It would have all been forgotten. 

But it rimmed out.

And then it teased almost as it was taunting, sitting on the rim for just a split second before falling away.

And just like that, Florida had lost to Kentucky in another one of those wild and wacky SEC games where a big lead is simply a launching point for the important part of the game.

“I don’t feel good about much right now,” said Mike White.

The Florida coach has seen this before, coming and going, a great 15 minutes followed by a terrible one, a scoring drought that also shows up on the defensive end.

The incredible comebacks and the incredible tent-foldings.

He’s experienced wins that have turned into losses and vice versa. This was the most painful of them all this season.

This was a chance to beat Kentucky. It didn’t matter that the Wildcats were playing without the head of their snake because Ashton Hagans needed the day off.  

This was a chance to beat Kentucky. This was a chance to get the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament and improve seeding in the NCAA Tournament and all that.

But this was a chance to beat Kentucky, to beat the blueblood, to beat the SEC champs. 

Instead, Florida did the things you can’t do with a game on the line.

“We played tired,” White said.

And there was a reason for that. Here are the minutes played for four of his starters:

* Andrew Nembhard 37:45.

* Scottie Lewis 36:23.

* Keyontae Johnson 34:45.

* Noah Locke 33:29.

In an intense, physical and emotional game, Florida couldn’t make the plays at the end. That included a turnover by Nembhard with 3.4 seconds to play.

“Maybe I should have played more guys,” White said.

But I get it. When it’s going good — and, man, was it going good — you want to keep the flow going. When the opponent starts to rally, you want the guys you can trust on the floor.

One of those guys was not on the floor for almost the entire second half. Kerry Blackshear Jr. could not have had a much worse Senior Night with zero points and an injured left wrist.

He might have made a difference defending Nick Richards, who was awful in the first half and sensational in the second half. Certainly, he could have helped the Gators on the boards in the second half where they were embarrassed 19-7.

 It was fitting that the game-winner came on an offensive rebound, this one a tip-in by EJ Montgomery that had to be reviewed with 11 seconds to play.

After an eternity of waiting, referee Doug Shows emerged from behind the headsets and signaled the basket counted. He did so with the enthusiasm of a football coach who just saw his play call go for a touchdown.

It got loud. There were a lot of Kentucky fans in the O-Dome.

For the Florida fans who bothered to show up (there were a lot of empty seats considering the team was trying to win its 20th game), this was another bizarre loss in a bizarre season.

We even had the comic relief of UK coach John Calipari thinking he was kicked out of the game only to return.

“I thought I was gone,” Calipari said, “and I wasn’t happy about it.”

But like everything else, so much that went right Saturday eventually went wrong. 

“We didn’t do all bad things,” said Locke. “We did some good things.”

But as has often been the case with a team that seems to think Groundhog Day is a national holiday, not enough of them.

“It’s frustrating,” White said, “and we don’t have a lot of time left.” 

And the ticking is deafening.

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

20 COMMENTS

  1. This game defines this team for the season. I left the club house with everyone watching as our golf game people finalized our scores. We were all pleased and happy they were being winners….then they quit, yes quit….forget the tiredness line. This is a defining pattern that most teams, players and coaches would not accept and allow to happen???? A couple of times, yes, several, no.

  2. This team is consistently inconsistent! Down by 22 -21 and win. Up by 18 -16 and lose. The fun of watching the games has been drained out of me. And please not another excuse – it’s Blackshear out, the youth, defense lapses, and on and on! Did we ever hear about youth with Billy D. or we were worried if we were ready to play or how inconsistent we were? It was just we lost – got out shot etc. It’s the head coach! Just fire White and get this over with. Ridiculous!

  3. The Gator baseball team is “young” too. Why have they managed to build an undefeated, record 15-0 start while this “young” basketball team can’t seem to get out of its own way after 30 some games?

    The answer has something to do with conditioning, discipline and coaching. Gator baseball FIRED a coach that was “good enough” before they hired CKO.

    • Stl, while I’m ecstatic that our “young” baseball team is undefeated, and I’m hoping they win the CWS so UF can be the first school to win multiple NC’s in all three major sports, there’s a significant difference between them and the “young” basketball team. Except for Miami, the baseball team has been feasting on inferior competition, while the basketball team just lost by 1 to the “Alabama” of SEC basketball. However, I’m sure some arrogant Cats fans would say that Alabama is the ‘Kentucky” of SEC football.

      Still, a loss is a loss, and it’s a very painful one considering the circumstances and stakes. Sadly, you may be on to something with questioning coaching. I hope not, but each loss brings about less and less wiggle room for another possibility.

      • Joe, if that abysmal second half performance had only happened vs. Kentucky, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But, that second half collapse has become all too common for this “talented” Gator basketball team. Can you picture THAT repeatedly happening to a Donovan coached team???

        The text book definition of insanity is to continue doing things the same way expecting different results. Time to try someone different.

        • Point taken, Stl. The inconsistency, the losses after big leads and wins after trailing big, is the frustrating and disappointing part.

          Speaking of BD, this game does remind me of the loss to Louisville in the 2012 Elite Eight. Up comfortably by double digits midway through the second half, the lead began to melt away. With under a minute and the Gators needing a bucket, their freshman star, Bradley Beal, drove to the rim but couldn’t finish. This game had all the same elements with Scottie Lewis playing the part of Bradley Beal. If you look at BD’s record in games decided by 5 points or less, you’ll find it’s well below .500. For diehard basketball fans, this is something we’ve seen before and, unfortunately, will see again.

          Go Gators!!!

  4. Being “Too young and inexperienced” had little to do with the Mid-second half collapse. This time they only had 10 minutes to keep doing what they were doing. IE. Not a whole game. Not collapsing in a team sport is also about “manning up” and not letting the other team up off the mat. They had seen this before. They will have to become a tough team.

  5. This game was bound to happen with this team. They are young and inexperienced. They go through long scoring droughts and they are flawed. My bigger concern is with the program as a whole.

    I went all the way back to 1980, when Norm Sloan was hired for his second tenure at UF. To that point, Gator basketball had never been to the NCAA tournament and had losing seasons in 7 of the 10 previous years.

    In all likelihood, UF will not win the SEC basketball tournament or the NCAA tournament. This will give them 14 loses this year. Mike White has lost 14+ games in a season in 3 of his 5 seasons. He has lost 13+ games in 4 of 5 seasons.

    Since 1980 (40 seasons), UF has lost 14+ games in 13 seasons (32.5%). Mike White has lost 14+ in 3 of his 5 seasons (60%). That 40 years spans Norm Sloan, Don Devoe, Lon Kruger, Billy Donovan and Mike White.

    Here are their percentages:
    Norm Sloan – 9 seasons; 3 14+ loss seasons (33%)
    Don Devoe – 1 season; 1 14+ loss season (100%)
    Lon Kruger – 6 seasons; 3 14+ loss seasons (50%)
    Billy Donovan – 19 seasons; 3 14+ loss seasons (15.7%)
    Mike White – 5 seasons; 3 14+ loss seasons (60%)

    This is not a comparison of White to the Donovan. Of course Donovan was a much better coach but he is one of the best. This compares White to Kruger, DeVoe, Sloan and goes back to when Gator basketball lived in the dark ages and celebrated a Final Four in the NIT!!

    Throughout the years, the number of games has not changed much. I guess you could make an argument that if you make the tournament you have one more opportunity to lose a 14th game, but if that is the standard, then we should just shut the program down.

    Lets look at strength of schedule from sports-reference.com. The higher the number the tougher the schedule.
    Sloan: 8.44
    DeVoe: 9.24
    Kruger: 9.25
    Donovan: 8.61
    White: 10.1

    White has definitely played tougher schedules but they have not been significantly harder than those the other coaches have faced. You could also argue that no other coach was left with more talent than White. You could also argue that the tougher schedule is the only reason White is even making the tournament with that many losses.

    I think White gets one more year because it looks as though he will finally have a balanced roster next year with some leadership and guys who have come up in the program. Also, maybe after 5 years, he will finally be able to get these guys to play tough since it has been a complaint since the Elite 8 team.

    I don’t hate the guy, but I do think that it’s time to judge his tenure against Gator basketball history.

  6. Great posts guys. I enjoyed reading everyone of them. I reminisce back to the Scotty Wilbekin days. Seems like in my not so great memory, he had the fire and passion and determination to make a play when you had to have that play. When KY started storming back Saturday, I kept waiting for some Gator to be the MAN. Step up and make the shot, the assist, the steal, whatever it took to stem the tide. All I got was confusion, turnovers and missed shots and no rebounds. Somebody needs to have the kahunas, the bravado, the mental toughness, the confidence to say hey I want the ball. I can make a play. That game Saturday put me in such a bad mood. I’m really emotionally exhausted from watching this team. I was so high early in the second half and then WHAM, I’m lower than a snakes belly. Can’t take the yo-yo. If any of you think I need mental health counseling, I probably wouldn’t protest too strongly. I say to myself…I’m not gonna watch this game, but every time, there I am in front of the tv. I must be a glutton for punishment. I think somebody posted above about doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Well….I resemble that remark.

  7. Perhaps, since UF is NOT really a basketball school, 20-win seasons with NCAA Tourney qualification is “good enough” for Gator Nation.

    If that’s the case, then CMW is our coach and we should stop carping about the performance of this year’s edition of Gator BB. Some year down the line, the stars will align again for CMW and the Gators will make the Final Four. Maybe, this team can find consistency in the tourney and surprise us!

    On the other hand, if MOST of Gator Nation believes Gator BB should aspire to 25-win seasons and Final Four qualifications every 3 to 4 years, then giving CMW another year to “fix” this team is a waste of time. By now, like with Muschamp in football, it’s clear that what we see is what we’ll get from a CMW squad… most seasons…

    … and maybe that’s good enough for us!

    • I think the goals year in and year out should be:

      1) 22-24 regular season wins (in 31-32 games)
      2) 10 or fewer losses (after postseason)
      3) Top 4 seed in SEC Tournament
      4) Regional #1-#4 seed in NCAA Tournament

      That’s it. The tournament is a crap shoot and anything can happen. However, your odds are better if you are a higher seed and if you do get eliminated in the first weekend, at least your team spent the year competing for the SEC championship.