Disaster in Athens

ATHENS, Ga. -- Coming off a heart wrenching loss to Kentucky, Athens seemed to be the ideal place for Florida basketball to regroup and get back on the winning track. They'd already beaten the Bulldogs by 26 in Gainesville, and Georgia was 0-9 in conference play. Sometimes things don't quite go according to plan.

Florida came up short 88-86, an potentially very damaging loss for their postseason and SEC hopes.

Florida had a chance to send the game to overtime with their final possession, a fast break opportunity off a Georgia miss with 16-seconds remaining. Freshman guard Erving Walker gathered the rebound and raced up court. He was unable to find someone in transition to get the ball to and wound up taking a difficult baseline jumper with four seconds left. It wouldn't go, and Walter Hodge's desperate heave after a battle for the rebound had no chance.

"It was a situation where you'd like to drive and kick," said Hodge. "But... Erv got the big so he had to take him and make a play."

"Erving got caught with the ball, and I think what you want to do in that situation is try to give it up, move it, quickly pass it," said head coach Billy Donovan. "He probably held on to it a little too long, and it's going to be a good lesson to him on how to make a play at the end of the game."

No one would have expected the Gators to be in a last second situation to begin with, but Georgia's offense performed at a ridiculous level early. A sparse crowd of Georgia supporters at Stegeman Coliseum were immediately energized by an offensive outburst. Florida allowed the SEC's worst scoring offense to reach a third of its usual 64 point a game pace by the 15:27 mark, thanks to the Bulldogs draining their first five three-pointers. They came in averaging less than six per game.

The offensive insanity never stopped. By the time the halftime break arrived, Florida had allowed 54 points to a team that failed to reach that total in three full SEC games this year. Georgia shot 69 percent, including 10-of-16 from three point range. Some of the Bulldogs' shots were last second heaves and crazy looks, but Florida allowed layups by not rotating correctly on the back end of the press as well.

"When you start to make shots, it creates a different energy level for your team and that's what happened," said Donovan. "We didn't play as good a defense as we needed to, and they really shot the ball very well."

Though trailing by as much as 14, the Gators kept themselves in the game with offense. Walter Hodge's team high 22 points included hitting 6-of-8 three-pointers. Nick Calathes was one rebound shy of another triple-double, scoring 16 and dishing out 13 assists.

Florida finally took the lead for the first time 77-76 on a pair of Ray Shipman free throws with 8:03 to go. A Walker jumper expanded the lead to three, but then a string of Gator fouls allowed Georgia six successful free throws to tie the game with 5:22 remaining.

Despite only scoring two points in the final 5:56 of the game, Donovan liked the looks his team was getting.

"I really thought coming down the stretch outside the last posesssion our guys did a pretty good job."

The longterm impact of Florida's first loss to a bad team this season is hard to know for sure just yet. The immediate impact is a drop to fourth place in the SEC East, as Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky all won Saturday and sit at 7-3 in conference play.

Florida is now 19-6 and 6-4 in the SEC. They head back to the O'Connell Center for home games against an Alabama team that hasn't won on the road this year and a Vanderbilt team they destroyed in Nashville earlier this year. It sounds like two sure wins, but the Gators learned the hard way here there is no such thing.

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