Win Over San Diego State IS Meaningful

Admittedly no one in Gator Nation was all that excited about the Gators playing in the NIT after the two greatest post-season runs in school history. In fact we debated on this site if in the long run the Gators would be better served by a 10th NCAA bid and early exit or a run to the NIT Final Four in New York.

The consensus was clear, keep the streak going and return to the big dance.

Well that option disappeared in a four game losing streak punctuated by an embarrassing loss to Alabama in the SEC Tournament in which Florida once trailed 42-14. Thus the NIT was the only option, and the Gators took to the floor against San Diego State.

The Aztecs are not as good as the Gators. Neither were LSU and Alabama in my view, but when you don't play hard, don't play smart and don't play well it really doesn't matter. This team was capable of coming into the O'Dome and winning and many felt that's exactly what would happen.

It didn't.

The Gators never trailed in this one and only once after the opening tap (9-9) did the Aztecs pull even. The Gators pulled out to a double-digit lead and held it most of the way. Florida looked like a more mature team. They played with a calmness and purpose that was lacking down the stretch when the Gators lost eight of their final eleven contests. The Gators also played well on the defensive end, holding San Diego State to just 49 points and six offensive rebounds.

Florida addressed two major areas of concern lately by winning the battle of the boards by 13 (35-to-22) and having a plus-four turnover differential.

Calathes Leads the Way

As usual it was the play of freshman Nick Calathes that led the Gators to their 22nd win of the season. The SEC Newcomer of the Year didn't score any of the Gators' first 20 points in this one, but he ended up with 16 to go with five assists and five rebounds. Several of those assists went to Marreese Speights who bounced back from a dreadful night in Atlanta to score 18 and grabbed six rebounds.

Next up is Creighton which rallied late to be Rhode Island on Tuesday. A win there would mean a third round game against Southern Illinois or Arizona State for that trip to NYC.

No, it's not the NCAA, but it's all the Gators have now. It certainly is encouraging to see they didn't pack it in and call it a year. Instead they responded to their coach's challenge and performed well in keeping their season going for at least one more night.

Questions or comments? Contact's Larry Vettel

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