Haven't We Played This Scene Before?

That headline is from the Harry Chapin song "Sequel" and is more and more the way this Gator basketball season is playing out. Just as they did last season the Gators opened up 13-2 in non-conference play. And just like 2007-08 Florida won five of its first seven SEC games to improve its record to 18-3 overall.

To keep the parallel going for awhile longer, the Gators have dropped two of three games to match last year's 19-6 mark and 6-4 SEC log heading into the final three weeks of the regular season.

Last year the Gators finished 2-4 down the stretch, lost in the first round of the SEC Tournament and had to settle for a spot in the NIT. This time around the Gators need to get four more wins to be comfortable about returning to the "Big Dance." Florida is certainly capable of winning four of six and perhaps getting another win or two in the SEC Tournament, but to do so team has to learn how to finish games.

Four of the Gators' six losses have been by three points or less and all were settled in the final seconds. All of those close losses were on their opponent's home court and each was painful in its own way. In fact the only times you can really say the Gators made the plays down the stretch to win were against Washington on a neutral court and against N.C. State in the O'Dome. Florida's only other close wins were by three at Auburn when the Tigers hit a "3" at the buzzer to make it seem closer than it was and at home against South Carolina when the team was holding on for dear life.

The loss to Georgia is the worst the Gators have suffered in several years. The Dawgs seemingly quit against Tennessee in their previous game and had not won in nine SEC outings. A team that was at the bottom of the SEC in scoring (58.7), shooting (.384) and three-point shooting (.285) in conference games managed to score 88, shot .574 from the field and .440 from beyond the arc. The Gator defense that was quite good against Kentucky (68 points, .473 shooting) three days earlier was nowhere to be found. The Gators were beaten on the boards by Georgia largely because Nick Calathes had as many rebounds (9) as the starting front court of Alex Tyus (5), Chandler Parsons (3) and Dan Werner (1) combined.

Earlier in the week we had a Q&A with Mark Wise that pointed out the importance of sweeping this three-game stretch since Florida's last four SEC games promise to be very difficult. Well a loss to the worst team in the league means Florida desperately needs to protect its home court. If they can do that, they'll head to Tampa with no worse than a 23-8 record and an NCAA bid pretty much assured. But if the Gators fail in any of their remaining home games it could mean another trip to the NIT.

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There will be no live TV of the Florida/Alabama game. Bill Koss and I will have the game tape delayed on Sun Sports at 10:30 Wednesday night.

Walter Hodge had a career high 22 points in the loss at Georgia and is now 48 points from reaching the 1,000 mark in his Gator career. He could hit that mark against Tennessee on March 1 or in the season finale against Kentucky March 7.

Last season Dan Werner averaged 11.1 points and 5.9 rebounds in SEC games, playing 29.1 minutes a game. This year his numbers are way down (7.0/3.4) in roughly the same playing time (27.4). The junior forward has scored in double figures just twice in 10 league games and has not grabbed more than seven rebounds in any of them.

Nick Calathes is building a case to be SEC Player of the Year, but he has to show he can make plays with the game on the line. Calathes has struggled in the last moments of Florida losses, missing key free throws against Kentucky and South Carolina and scoring just one point in the final 15 minutes against Georgia. You have to wonder if fatigue is a factor since Calathes is playing 34.8 minutes in SEC games. Three SEC players are logging more minutes, but none of them has the burden of leading his team in scoring, rebounding and assists.

Kenny Kadji broke out of his slump with a solid effort at Georgia. The rookie center scored seven points and got two rebounds in just 11 minutes of action. Kadji had scored just five points total in the previous four games.

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