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Gators' NCAA hopes on life support

Florida likely played its way out of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament on Wednesday with a loss to Miss. State.

It was never really exciting. It was never even really that close. In the end, it never really was much different than last season.

Florida lost to Mississippi State 80-71 on Wednesday at Humphrey Coliseum in a game the Gators desperately needed to win to improve their chances of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Hodge Florida senior Walter Hodge led the Gators with 20 points. Forward Alex Tyus scored 16 points in defeat and had seven rebounds. Guard Nick Calathes had 11 points.

[PICTURED, Walter Hodge scored 20 points on Wednesday, becoming the 44th player in program history to score 1,000 career points.]

Hoping to return to the NCAA Tournament after winning back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007, Florida (21-8, 8-7 SEC) has lost three-straight games and five of its last seven. Last season, the Gators lost six of their final eight regular-season games and failed to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Mississippi State shot 50 percent from three-point range on Wednesday, making 10 of 20 shots. The Bulldogs' bench outscored Florida's reserves 28-12. Bulldogs swingman Ravern Johnson scored a team-high 15 points. MSU forward Jarvis Varnado had 13 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals.

Here's a key stat. In the Gators' last five losses, UF's opponents made at least seven three-pointers: Kentucky (seven), Georgia (14), LSU (nine), Tennessee (10) and Mississippi State (10).

Mississippi State led 42-33 at halftime and the Gators never seriously threatened the Bulldogs' lead in the second half. Florida cut the Bulldogs' advantage to four points early in the second half when Tyus made a jumper with 15:16 left in the game. Trailing by five with 13:17 left in the game, the Gators went cold and only scored three points in six minutes and 24 seconds.

So, what's next for the Gators? Well, there's the home game against Kentucky on Saturday, but the season finale lost a lot of its shine on Wednesday. Not only did Florida lose to MSU, but Kentucky (19-11, 8-7) lost AT HOME to Georgia (12-18, 3-12).  Simply amazing.

Here's a rundown of the important SEC games in the next four days:

South Carolina (20-7, 9-5) hosts Tennessee (18-10, 9-5) at 7 p.m. on Thursday. South Carolina then plays at Georgia on Saturday. Tennessee ends its season at Alabama on Sunday. Three SEC teams now have eight conference wins with one game remaining: Florida, Kentucky and Mississippi State. State ends its season on Saturday with a home game against rival Ole Miss.

With so many teams needing an automatic bid to make the NCAA Tournament, the SEC Tournament in Tampa will certainly be competitive. Who's the favorite? LSU, supposedly. But the Tigers lost to Vanderbilt on Wednesday. Currently, LSU (25-5, 13-2) is the only SEC with a secure at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Who's the the hottest team in the SEC? That would Auburn, which -- out of nowhere -- is now 20-10 and 9-6 in the SEC. The undersized Tigers have won seven of their last eight conference games. Auburn could position itself for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament with a win against LSU on Saturday.

-jo-

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