The frustration continues to build for a Florida Gators basketball team that suffered its third consecutive conference loss, and worse loss of the season, to the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday.
Not too long ago, Florida was sitting at the top of the SEC, but it now finds itself at a 6-4 conference record with no signs of things getting any better.
The Gators didn’t think it could get much uglier after falling 72-60 at Georgia on Tuesday, but it absolutely could, and it did.
It didn’t start that way, though.
At first, it felt like a game where Florida would bounce back with a vengeance as it forced Alabama into 14 turnovers and held a lead the entire first half.
The Gators weren’t exactly hitting on all cylinders offensively in the first 20 minutes, but were doing just enough, and the improved defensive energy made up for it. Florida led by as many as 10 before taking a 33-27 lead to the locker room.
From there, things went terribly wrong.
The Crimson Tide scored the first six points of the second half, and in less than two and a half minutes, had their first lead of the game.
KeVaughn Allen came up big to score Florida’s first eight points of the half and keep his team in the game over the next few minutes.
He grabbed a steal and made a layup on the other end to tie it at 35 with 16:38 to go. Then, he drained a huge three at the end of the shot clock on the next possession to regain a 38-37 lead.
A Collin Sexton layup briefly put Alabama back on top, but Allen answered again to give Florida its final advantage of the night as the Gators led 41-39 with 14:59 on the clock.
An Egor Koulechov jumper ended a three-minute scoring drought for Florida and tied it at 43 at the 11:56 mark, but it was all Crimson Tide from there.
The Gators did not score a single point for the next four and a half minutes as Alabama extended its lead to 11.
Florida went on to score in its next three possessions, but the Crimson Tide would not be denied and had an answer every time. Without any stops on the defensive end, the closest the Gators could get was within nine points.
Things snowballed in the final five minutes as Florida scored just four more points to close out the game and Alabama poured it on to come away with a 68-50 win.
It was the worst half of the season and the second poor finish in a row for the Gators as the Crimson Tide outscored them 41-17 in the final 20 minutes of play.
“It happens to us a lot,” said graduate transfer guard Egor Koulechov. “We’re locked in and we defend really well in the first half, and then something happens in the second half. We lose our focus there. We’ve just gotta fix it. That’s a decision we’ve gotta make.”
The Gators shot 33 percent, went 5-for-24 from beyond the arc, had just one point off the bench and were outscored 46-26 in the paint. Without an absolutely stellar defense, that is a recipe for disaster for any team.
Florida saw its biggest flaw severely exposed as it had absolutely no inside presence or scoring ability and Alabama took full advantage.
“They dared us to dump it off on the interior and we struggled again to finish at the rim,” said head coach Mike White. “We struggled to finish on offensive rebound put back opportunities. They altered or blocked a lot of stuff at the rim. We’ve gotta get better in those areas.”
Of course, Florida’s defense could not do enough to combat the offensive woes.
The Gators forced just five turnovers in the second half, but the real story came on the boards. The Crimson Tide had a 43-25 advantage in total rebounds and 32-16 in defensive rebounds.
Following the game, White said he is very concerned with Florida’s defensive attitude and his team’s overall identity. The players are feeling that same dissatisfaction.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” said redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone. “I know the players are mad, I know the coaches are mad, I know the fans are mad. We’ve just gotta turn around and get better.”
Stone finished with 12 points and tied with Kevarrius Hayes to lead the team with five rebounds, Allen led with 16 points and tacked on four rebounds and Koulechov had 11 points, but did not get it done on the boards the way he has in most games this season.
Behind them, three other players combined for just 11 points.
Florida’s performance on Saturday was pitiful and not nearly enough to have success in one of the best leagues in the country. The Gators need to figure a lot of things out or this season could go downhill in a hurry.
“It’s not that guys aren’t trying” Koulechov said. “This is a group of good guys. We love each other. But at the same time, we’ve gotta man up, step up. We’ve only got eight conference games left. In the conference tournament, who knows what’s gonna happen. This is kind of the home stretch and there’s not a whole lot of time left.”