GAINESVILLE -- Has Florida’s bubble burst?
After three straight losses, the Gators are no longer a consensus NCAA Tournament team, per the omnipotent Bracket Matrix.
Saturday’s 96-91 loss at LSU was yet another blow to UF’s postseason hopes, capping a month of missed opportunities. The Gators, who’s RPI dropped 13 spots to No. 45, have lost five of seven and won just three games in February.
Florida hosts No. 22 Kentucky on Tuesday night in desperate need of a victory. The showdown against the Wildcats also marks the final game in the O’Connell Center before the facility’s $65 million renovation gets underway.
“We’ve squandered some opportunities and this is one of the last few we’ll have,” first-year coach Mike White said.
“Obviously, this is a big, big opportunity for our guys to overcome some mistakes and failures. It will be a very, very difficult game to win, but if we play well -- we’re at home -- we should have our chances.”
Florida’s tailspin actually started in Lexington during a 80-61 loss to Kentucky on Feb. 6. The Gators were lit up for 35 points by ‘Cats freshman Jamal Murray, and their once-stingy defense hasn’t been the same since.
After ranking among the Top 10 nationally in defensive efficiency for the first three months of the season, Florida has been torched in the last month, allowing 70-plus points six times -- including four games over 80 points.
“Our emphasis probably moved toward offense too much [lately],” White said, adding that UF held a defense-only practice Monday.
“We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time shooting free throws, running dry offense by shooting a ton of jump shots, individual skill development. … It’s always a balancing act, and we’ve got to be back to defending at a high level to give ourselves a chance.”
Especially against Kentucky.
As it stands, Florida (17-11, 8-8) is grouped in a five-way tie for sixth place in the SEC. To make the NCAA Tournament, the Gators likely need to beat Kentucky and Missouri in the regular-season finale. Otherwise, UF may have to make a deep run -- or perhaps win -- the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee to even reach the NCAA’s.
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