Living on the edge
Gators 'exposed' in loss, or waiting to flip switch?
Posted: Saturday February 24, 2007 10:01PM; Updated: Sunday February 25, 2007 10:48AM
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Is Florida just teasing us, or need we actually be concerned about the state of the defending national champions?
What are we supposed to believe amid this scene at LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center, where the Gators -- everyone's favorites to cut down the nets in Atlanta -- were just beaten 66-56 by the last-place team in the SEC, one that had lost nine of its past 10 games and had its star player, Glen Davis, watching from the sideline in an oversized, pinstriped suit?
Should we chalk up what happened on Saturday to boredom or complacency and say, Don't worry, they'll flip the switch back on when it matters? Florida did, after all, already have the SEC title locked up before it road-tripped to the Bayou (clinching it Wednesday against South Carolina) and it also suffered through a similarly timed slump last season (losing to Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama in late February) before sweeping the SEC and NCAA tournaments. Or should we worry that the third-ranked Gators are awkwardly backing into the Big Dance? If you were hoping to hear them assuage your doubts ... then you probably shouldn't keep reading.
"We can't just plan to flip the switch," said junior forward Corey Brewer, who finished with 11 points and four turnovers. "In the tournament, teams are going to be bringing their best at us, and if we're playing like this, we're going to lose. We're living dangerously right now, and if we don't fix it in the next couple of games, we could have problems."
Coach Billy Donovan said his team looked not like one that was deep into its run at the first repeat national title since Duke in 1991-92, but rather, "like a team that just won a national championship."
"Competing maybe wasn't the most important thing on their mind today," Donovan said. "It goes back to what I've talked to those guys about living in the moment. We enjoyed that moment. That moment's over with."
One would be wary of overreacting to the result of a single road game -- LSU did, after all, shoot an inspired 51.1 percent, and Florida is still 25-4 and 12-2 in the SEC -- but what happened against the Tigers was not an isolated incident. The Gators have been showing signs of vulnerability for a couple of weeks now, staring with a win at Kentucky on Feb. 10 in which they let an early 16-point lead dwindle to one late in the second half.
Four days later, at home against Alabama, Florida spotted the Tide an 18-point advantage before rallying to win 76-67. Last Saturday at Vanderbilt, UF dug itself an early hole from which it could not escape, and saw its national-best 17-game winning streak come to an end. A similar fate awaited the Gators in Baton Rouge, as defensive lapses allowed the Tigers to hit 10 of their first 12 shots and take a 15-point first-half lead. It looked as if Florida would mount a comeback early in the second, as a Joakim Noah dunk -- complete with requisite primal scream -- and an Al Horford three-point play cut the LSU lead to eight at the 15:41 mark, but the Gators lacked the defensive mettle to shut down Garrett Temple and Tasmin Mitchell (who combined for 35 points) on the other end. Eight was the closest UF would ever get.
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