The loss to LSU on Saturday is disturbing because it followed so closely the debacle in Nashville. While it's way too early to get overly concerned, there is a growing sense that the Gators have mentally shifted into "coast" mode.
If you look at Florida's recent performances you'll be hard-pressed to find a 40-minute performance that was impressive. Shoot, it's hard to find a 30 minute performance that stands out. Florida got on top of South Carolina and coasted. The Gators played great in grabbing huge leads against Tennessee and Kentucky and slept through the rest of those contests. It was at Auburn, on January 27th that the Gators last took command of a game early and maintained dominance throughout. That's the kind of effort that wins championships, not what we've been seeing lately.
Dreadful Day for Gator Guards
The LSU game is one Florida's back court players would just as soon erase from their memories as quickly as possible. Taurean Green scored six points in Baton Rouge and Lee Humphrey added five. Don't let those numbers confuse you. They didn't play nearly as well as those numbers might indicate.
Green did not score until he made a free throw with 3:24 to play. That free throw made the score 54-41. Humphrey waited even longer to do something productive, finally nailing a three-point shot in the final two minutes to make it 59-49. It was his first make after five misses when the game was still in doubt. Corey Brewer was only marginally better with eleven points, but he, too was 1-for-6 from beyond the arc and turned it over four times. Walter Hodge played 18 minutes off the bench and scored one point.
Overall the Gatos were a pitiful 2-for 17 from three-point range and an almost equally inept 12-for-22 from the free throw line. The Gators were also clobbered on the boards, getting out rebounded by the LSU Tigers 34-23. The Gators faced a team trying to post a season-salving win and put up very little resistance.
Long Term Ramifications
The loss drops Florida to 25-and-4 on the year, 12-and-1 in the SEC and both marks are impressive. But it also calls into question whether this team has been relying on its ability to "throw the switch". Florida found the spark it needed to post come-from-behind victories in previous weeks, but in the last eight days the Gators have twice fallen behind on the road. In each case, Florida did not rally and never displayed the passion needed to come back and win.
All of the Gators most important goals are still there for the taking, including a perfect season at home and a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. However neither can be viewed as a lock. With two losses in three games the Gators appear to need four wins to re-establish themselves as deserving of a number one nod. They get their first chance to begin that process in Knoxville Saturday night. It would be a huge mistake to over-react to these two recent setbacks.
A number one seed is not something that is all that urgent. After all, the Gators have never been seeded that high and managed to reach the Final Four three times in the last 13 NCAA Tournaments. In fact, this team is still ahead of last year's at this point. Last season the Gators lost on the Saturday right before the final week of the season (at Alabama). It was their sixth loss in eleven games and called into question whether that team could really end the Gators' five-year history of going out in the first weekend of March Madness.
We all know how that turned out.