UF Falls Apart in Atlanta

ATLANTA -- The last time Florida played a basketball game in the Georgia Dome, they claimed college basketball's national championship by defeating Ohio State. During an embarrassing performance in the same building Thursday night, the Gators guaranteed they will not have a chance to defend that title.

Florida was viewed as a "bubble team" coming into their game with Alabama. They played like one that was on the bubble for a spot in the NIT rather than the NCAA tournament in an 80-69 loss.

Florida got off to a horrible start, which led to them trailing 30-5 11 minutes into the game. They were incompetent in every phase of the game, making 2 of 13 shots while turning the ball over five times and allowing Alabama to score in every possible way. The Crimson Tide got run-out dunks off of turnovers, follow-up dunks after Gator players failed to block out, and drained four 3-pointers for good measure. It may well have been the worst stretch of basketball I have ever seen a Billy Donovan coached team play. Despite a second half surge which cut the margin to six at one point, UF was never able to recover.

Donovan clearly sensed his team wasn't in the right frame of mind for the game, calling a timeout just a minute into play. Another timeout during the onslaught did nothing to stem the Alabama momentum, nor did wholesale substitutions that saw every scholarship player on the roster in the game play within the first five minutes. Forward Chandler Parsons felt the Gators lacked intensity when things began.

"We didn't come ready to play today... once you get down so deep, it's tough to crawl back," said the freshman.

After the loss, Donovan expressed his frustration with the team's lack of growth.

"A lot of these guys talk a really good game, you know? A lot of them do," Donovan said. "Our deficiencies that have affected our team are exposed and I have not been able to, as a coach, get them to focus on it and improve it."

How bad were Florida's starters early? For the entire first half, they made a total of one shot from inside the three point arc - ONE! - on their way to shooting 4 of 17. If rebounds, blocks and steals are considered the "hustle stats", it's safe to say Florida got hustled. Alabama pulled down 26 rebounds to the Gators 12, and the Crimson Tide had six steals and two blocks to UF's single block and no steals.

Those numbers clearly aren't acceptable to Donovan, who was blunt after the game in expressing his disappointment with his current crop of five freshmen who are expected to be the core of next year's squad.

"I'm not necessarily that excited about these guys being sophomores, to be honest," he said. "I think people's initial thing is 'They're going to get older.' but I never believe in that. I don't think people change a whole lot, and I don't think you've seen a basketball team change at all this year so it's hard for me to get overly thrilled or excited."

Florida will doubtless get a chance to play again this season in the NIT, the first time in ten years the Gators will end their season in that tournament. For this group of players, it's a chance to play together as a unit for at least one more game. The question that has to be asked after Thursday night's debacle is whether they still want to.

The Heath Cline Show airs daily from 11-1 on Gainesville's Star 99.5 FM

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