Gator Defense can't stop Tigers

The last thing the Florida Gators expected when they faced LSU at the O'Connell Center on Wednesday night was to be outhustled, outplayed and outmatched against the struggling Tigers. And yet that's exactly what happened in Florida's 85-73 loss to LSU.

After being blasted by Billy Donovan following their win against Georgia over the weekend because of their lack of defensive effort, the Gators (19-6, 6-4 SEC) allowed LSU (9-14, 2-7 SEC) to shoot 60 percent from the floor and an amazing 45 percent from behind the 3-point line. Florida turned the ball over 19 times and were on the wrong end of nine blocked shots as they were dismantled by the visiting Tigers.

"This is a humbling experience for us," Marreese Speights said. "Hopefully we can just continue to work hard and get better."

"We still scored 77 points, but we just didn't play defense," Dan Werner said. "We didn't battle and we didn't guard anyone."

The Gators shot the ball fairly well, making more than 46 percent of their shots, but it wasn't enough because whatever they tried defensively, they couldn't slow down LSU.

"At this time in the season, I don't think you can win games giving up 60 percent from the field and 45 percent from the 3-point line," Donovan said. "There is a tremendous amount of pressure on our offense to make up what we can't do on defense. Maybe like LSU, we need to become hardened. LSU looked a lot tougher."

LSU has gone through a terrible week that started with the firing of their head coach John Brady followed by a tough two-point loss to the SEC's top team Tennessee. But against the Gators, on Florida's home court, they had all wheels turning.

"They've been through a lot in the last week," Donovan said. "A big part of the game was that their players are hardened. They're hardened from losing and they're hardened from the events of the last week."

The Gators were also dominated by LSU's big men, Anthony Randolph and Chris Johnson. The two combined for 41 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots.

"Their frontcourt shocked us a little bit," Donovan said. "Those guys came ready to play. Their ability to bock shots, alter shots and neutralize us around the rim was key. This team played us exactly how we thought they would play us. But I think there's a level of immaturity that we don't let the game come to us. We don't read and we don't make decisions. They were more aggressive. They were more physical. They were more hardened. There is a hardened shell around them right now because of what happened. I don't think our guys are hardened. We haven't been scarred. We have baby skin right now."

Florida was slow out of the gates, making just one of their first seven shots. LSU jumped out to a quick 14-2 lead five minutes into the first half led by Johnson's offense. Johnson was wide open time after time underneath and scored eight of LSU's first 14 points, including three dunks.

LSU would extend the lead to 14 points before the Gators finally heated up. Adam Allen came of the bench to knock down a pair of 3s and Jai Lucas hit a 12-foot jumper to narrow the gap. Werner then made a driving layup to cut LSU's lead to 27-21 with 6:43 remaining in the first half.

Back-to-back 3s from Walter Hodge and Nick Calathes pulled the Gators to within four points, but LSU answered with five straight points of their own. Then a 3-pointer from Marcus Thornton extended LSU's lead to 41-33 at the break.

Florida started the second half sloppy, turning the ball over on four of their first six possessions. LSU took advantage by extending their eight-point halftime lead to 13 points, 50-37, with 15:24 remaining. The Gators scored five straight after an Alex Tyus runner and a 3-pointer from Jonathan Mitchell, but the Tigers answered with five straight of their own to stretch the lead back to 13 at 55-42.

The Gators switched up their defense and put together a run midway through the second half. Werner made a pair of layups and Calathes converted a 3-point play to cut LSU's lead to six points, 55-49, with 10:21 left in the game.

"In the second half, we battled back again, but they got a big lead again," Werner said. "We just didn't guard anyone. We didn't play any defense, didn't shoot the ball and didn't execute.

A dunk by Speights cut the lead to four, but the Tigers called a 30-second timeout and then went on a 14-3 run to stretch the lead 15 points, the largest of the game, with 5:42 remaining. The Gators would never get closer than eight the rest of the way.

Calathes led the Gators with 16 points and five assists, but he also turned it over five times. Werner finished with 13, Speights with 11 and Hodge with 10.

"It hurts a lot, but we have to come back tomorrow and get ready for Saturday," Werner said.

The Gators hit the road this weekend to face Vanderbilt. Florida crushed the Commodores in January, but Vandy has won four straight since the loss and is a perfect 16-0 at home this season.

Questions or comments? Contact's Chris Chmielenski

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