A Trip to Gainesville

After back-to-back National Championships, the Florida Gators basketball team has been absent from the NCAA Tournament for two seasons. Winless in conference, their Saturday match with LSU is a turning point in the season.

Florida head coach Billy Donovan has had a rough run since his team danced at midcourt after consecutive national titles.

The Gators haven’t made the tournament in the two seasons since. Currently, Florida (11-5, 0-2) is winless in Southeastern Conference play, losing at Vanderbilt and to Kentucky.

While the Gators came close to beating the undefeated Wildcats on Tuesday night – Florida rallied from 15 points down to tie the game – the outcome was an 89-77 run-away finish. Simply put, Kentucky was too big, too strong and too talented for the Gators to hang with for 40 minutes.

Through November and into early December, Florida downed Florida State at home before they dropped Michigan State in New Jersey and later gave Syracuse a run for their money. 

The loss to the Orange, however, started a downward spiral that Donovan and his team can’t seem to shake. The Gators have lost five of their last eight, with the only wins coming against American University, Presbyterian and North Carolina State – a one-point, overtime victory.

“Every team is jacked up for the start of practice, but then the excitement wears off,” Donovan said. “You have the first game and then everyone is focusing on minutes. Then you start to distribute them and then you start to understand there is a ceiling to get better. We have a high ceiling.

“I'm anxious to see how this team responds against LSU,” he added. “It's critical for us to separate ourselves. Do they come together as a group? What kind of effort will we have? There are external motivational things that happen, like playing Michigan State or Kentucky. But how internally motivated are you?”

LSU head coach Trent Johnson, whose team squandered a second half lead against South Carolina during their last night out, pondered the same questions of motivation.

“It should be a supreme challenge, but something, contrary to what your record is and how you feel, you have to find a way to get yourself up and ready to play,” he said.

LSU is in search of their first road win of the season, having dropped all seven of their contests away from the PMAC.

“They are talented, and this is the same group with the exception of Nick Calathes last year that we really struggled to beat,” Johnson said. “The reason we beat them is because Marcus [Thornton] put us on his back and made a lot of shots and plays. They cause a lot of problems with their length, skill and match-up zones, and they have ability to stretch.

“[Chandler] Parsons and [Dan] Werner seem like they have been there forever,” he added. “[Vernon] Macklin is a man. [Kenny] Boynton is not a freshman. He is talented, skilled and leading them in scoring. [Erving] Walker is quick. They cause a lot of the problems Alabama did, and probably more so because of their talent, skill level and size. It's almost like we are moving up in class every step of the way in terms of pressure. I like Florida as much as I like anyone, and obviously it's because of what they return.”

The Tigers and Gators meet at 8 p.m. EST (7 p.m. CST) at the O'Connell Center in a game to be regionally televised on FSN. 

Tiger Blitz Top Stories