Great Effort Comes Up Short

There are many in the sports business, particularly coaches that will tell you that there is no such thing as a good loss or a bad win. Well, after covering the Gators for three decades I have seen a number of "bad" wins in which the Gators played below their abilities but somehow managed to win.

Wednesday night in Oxford, Florida had what I consider to be a good loss. Florida played hard, battled a top 20 team down to the wire and came up just short in an 89-87 loss to the Ole Miss Rebels. The Gators fell behind double digits on several occasions, but were able to battle back and have a chance to win in the final minutes but couldn't get it done.

The Gators got virtually nothing from center Marreese Speights whose indifferent play earned him a seat on the bench for the last 18 minutes of the contest. Instead the Gators got strong play off the bench, made some clutch shots and put a scare into the team many consider the emerging team in the nation.

Speights Must Find Some Fire

This team has one guy over 6-9, and in this game he was almost invisible after a fast start in the contest. Speights played just 17 minutes and finished with four points and seven boards. The big man has gone from a potential lottery pick in November to the biggest mystery surrounding this team. Speights simply has to become a more reliable presence inside game in and game out. Not just against teams where he has a physical advantage, but against every opponent.

Positives Moving Forward

There's no question this unusual assemblage of players has shown significant development over the course of 18 games. At times they revert to the inexperienced kids they are, but at other times they show signs of a future championship contender. Florida got 15 second half points from Chandler Parsons to key their second half run. Dan Werner continues to be the lunch pail guy with the blue collar work ethic with a 16 point, nine rebound performance.

As usual Nick Calathes had his moments when he reminds you that he's just a freshman, but when you look up at the end of the game he has 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists. I thought Florida got excellent minutes form Jonathan Mitchell (9/3) and Alex Tyus (6/4). The Gators out rebounded the top team in the SEC in that category and showed a competitive nature throughout most of the evening.

The next challenge for the Gators will come Saturday when they host Kentucky. Florida will have to bounce back quickly, deal with the distractions that come with ESPN Game Day being in town and deal with a dangerous team in the Wildcats. The game at Ole Miss would have been a significant win for the Gators in terms of the NCAA tournament and RPI standings, but beating Kentucky is much more important. The Gators must defend the home court in order to be a tournament team this spring. Saturday night will pose a significant challenge in that regard.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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