The Gators lost to the Tennessee Volunteers on Sunday for the seventh time in the two teams' last eight meetings.
GAINESVILLE -- Not even the O'Connell Center can save this Florida men's basketball team now.
Florida lost to Tennessee 79-75 on Sunday. GAME STORY HERE. It was Florida's first home loss of the season and a devastating blow to the Gators' hope of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Florida (21-8, 8-6) is now tied with Kentucky (19-10, 8-6) for second place in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division. Tennessee (18-10, 9-5) is tied with South Carolina (20-7, 9-5) for first place in the East.
The magic number to insure the Gators' at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament still stands at three. (Just my opinion). That means Florida needs to win at Mississippi State (17-12, 7-7) on Wednesday and then defeat Kentucky at the O'Connell Center next Saturday in the regular-season finale. In addition to those two wins, a few victories in the SEC Tournament couldn't hurt. At least one win in Tampa is absolutely necessary.
Of course, if Florida loses to Mississippi State on Wednesday, then everything changes. Florida will more than likely have to make the finals of the SEC Tournament to earn its at-large bid. Can Florida win the SEC Tournament? What are the chances? Anything is possible in the SEC this season, as far as I'm concerned. Florida, playing in its home state, has just as good a chance of winning the SEC Tournament as any other team.
As for Sunday, Florida was no match for Tennessee's combination of athleticism and three-point shooting. The Vols made 10 three pointers, including 9 of 11 in the first half. What is it with Tennessee when it plays Florida? The Vols are shooting just 30.7 percent from behind the three-point line this season, yet when Tennessee plays Florida the Vols shoot the lights out. In Tennessee's home win against Florida on Jan.31, the Vols made a season-high 12 three-pointers.
Nick Calathes led the Gators with 20 points and freshman guard Erving Walker scored 15 of his 16 points in the second half to lead a spirited comeback. UF trailed by as many as 16 in the second half but cut the Vols' lead to three points with a minute left in the game. Walker had four three-pointers in the second half.
Excellent defensive plays by Tennessee guards Scotty Hopson and J.P. Prince shut down the Gators in the final minute. Hopson's rangy arms blocked Walker's game-tying three-point attempt with a minute remaining. Prince altered Calathes' running lay-up attempt with 26 seconds left.
After Kentucky's home loss to Louisiana State on Saturday, many believe the loser of the Wildcats' and Gators' season finale will not make the NCAA Tournament. For the record, I am not one of those people. Both can still play their ways into the Tournament with strong performances in Tampa.
There were a few positives to take away from Florida's loss on Sunday.
1. Freshman forward Ray Shipman scored five points, including a three-pointer.
2. Freshman guard Erving Waker's confidence grows daily. He had played well in the second half and wasn't afraid to take big shots.
TWO MORE POSITIVES
1. The Rowdies were looking good.
2. The Dazzlers wore cowgirl hats.
1. Sophomore center Alex Tyus had a bad game. He made just 2 of 8 from the field and finished with six points. Tyus is playing out of position this season and gets exposed against players like Tennessee centers Wayne Chism and Brian Williams.
2. Senior shooting guard Walter Hodge had four points on 1 of 4 shooting from the field. Not exactly what you want from your senior leader in one of the Gators' biggest games of the season.
Tennessee center Brian Williams is a shameless goon.