Gators Still Must Learn to Finish

Florida's loss in Lexington Tuesday night shows that this team still has a lot of growing up to do. Just like the trip to South Carolina, the Gators had a late lead on the road and blew it on defense and at the free throw line. They almost did the same thing at home against the Gamecocks as what should have been a comfortable lead dwindled to just two points.

The crowd at Rupp Arena saw the Gators get outscored 12-3 over the final 3:19 of the game; turning a six-point lead into a three-point loss. Many will focus on Nick Calathes missing the chance to tie the game with less than a second to go, but those three misses were just part of a 3-for-9 collapse at the charity stripe.

Veterans Not Producing

Senior Walter Hodge and junior Dan Werner have struggled most of the time in SEC action and that was never more crucial than Tuesday night. Hodge scored just two points on 1-for-5 shooting before getting thrown out of the game with 16:12 to play for stepping on the arm of Kentucky's Perry Stevenson when he was lying on the floor. Hodge also got a technical at Tennessee. So much for senior leadership. Meanwhile Werner played 34 minutes and score just four points on 1-for-6 shooting. He had as many fouls and turnovers (3) as he had rebounds.

In nine SEC games Hodge (7.1) and Werner (6.9) have combined for just 14 points in 56 minutes. That's a dramatic drop off from last year when the two combined to play 60 minutes in SEC and averaged 22.3 points between them.

Crucial Stretch Ahead

The Gators are now 19-5, 6-3 in the SEC and tied for first in the division. That's a good place to be in, but the Gators don't have much margin for error. Coming up are three games where the Gators simply must win them all to have a realistic shot at NCAA Tournament play. Georgia, Alabama and Vanderbilt are three of the weaker teams in the league, and all have sub-.500 conference records. Beating them won't do the Gators a ton of good, but losses in any of those games would be devastating. With a stretch run that's the toughest of any SEC contender the Gators have to capitalize on every opportunity before then.

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Florida has announced that tickets remain for the four remaining home games. I know the economy is tough for a lot of people, but it's appalling that this program with the success it has had the last decade still has tickets for sale this late in the year with Tennessee and Kentucky yet to come to town. As important as these remaining games are, getting back to a significant home court advantage is even more so.

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Nick Calathes passed the 1,000 point mark with his 33 at Kentucky. He is the 43rd Gator to reach that milestone and the 15th to do so while playing for Billy Donovan. He is the third Gator to top 1,000 in his first two seasons, joining Ronnie Williams and Vernon Maxwell. Walter Hodge (931) should reach that mark in the post-season if he maintains his current (7.5) scoring pace since Florida is assured of at least nine more games.

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