Third Straight Loss Hurts More Than First Two

It didn't do the Gators any harm to drop an 85-73 decision to Syracuse in Tampa two weeks ago. The Orange is an established program and unbeaten at the time. Losing to Richmond in South Florida hurt a bit, but still this was a team with a higher RPI than the Gators and had four starters back from a team that won 20 last season.

But Tuesday night in the O'Dome, Florida suffered a loss that could come back to haunt them in March. The 67-66 defeat at the hands of South Alabama is one that the NCAA selection committee is likely to be shaking its collective head about when it evaluates Florida candidacy for a return to the big dance.

It's not that the Jaguars are a terrible team, they're not. They are now 9-4 on the year and also can boast of a win over Arkansas. But South Alabama is a Sun Belt Conference team, and SEC teams should not lose home games to Sun Belt teams, period.

Florida followed a familiar pattern in dropping their third straight contest. The Gators were miserable shooting the basketball from long range, making just 3-of-22 from behind the arc. Florida also had another lousy day grabbing rebounds, especially on the defensive end. South Alabama grabbed 16 offensive rebounds despite being undersized in comparison to the Gators. 6-6 freshman DeAndre Hersey grabbed the 16th of those offensive boards and put it back in for the winning points with 1.8 seconds to play.

Veterans Faded Down the Stretch

Florida trailed for most of the night, but had a great chance to win in the final two minutes but once again could not make plays down the stretch and the blame falls on two of the Gators most experienced players, Dan Werner and Chandler Parsons. With the Gators up one, Parsons jacked up his sixth long range shot (and fifth miss) and Werner committed his fourth foul.

Then with the Gators up three and less than a minute to play Werner fouled out, giving South Alabama two free throws. Parsons missed a jumper with 20 seconds left to play setting the stage for Hersey's last second heroics.

Parsons and Werner combined to make just 2-of-14 shots in this one, coming to make just one-of-nine from behind the 3-point line. They also committed eight of the Gators' 16 fouls including the two crucial ones late in the game. Florida had trouble winning the close games a year ago and that difficulty cost the Gators an NCAA bid just as it had the previous season. These last two games again saw the Gators unable to make the key shot, get a key stop or grab the crucial rebound. As a result the Gators head to their Christmas break 8-3 instead of 11-1.

Three Games ‘Til SEC Play Begins

Florida has two exhibition games next week to try to get back on track. Both American and Presbyterian are 2-10 on the season (as of 12/23) and should offer little if any challenge to Billy Donovan's team.

However the loss to South Alabama adds a great deal of importance to the Gators' final pre-SEC contest at North Carolina State on January 3. The Wolfpack is 8-2 heading into a Wednesday night game at Arizona and has two more games before hosting the Gators. State is expected to be a non-contender in the ACC this year and lost its conference opener to Wake Forest. A win over the Wolfpack isn't a "must" for the Gators, but it would go a long way to undo the damage caused by Tuesday's loss.

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