One team looked tired and mentally exhausted tonight and one looked rested and prepared and although you’d think it was the team that went to war with South Carolina last night that would be gassed and the team with extra day off would be the one mentally ready but unfortunately, it was the opposite. The Gators, who earned a double-bye in the SEC Tournament by finishing 3rd in the league, looked outmatched in most of this game by the 6th seeded Arkansas Razorbacks ultimately losing 80-72. Though this was a neutral site game in St. Louis the crowd seemed to be decidedly in favor of the Razorbacks and their loud cheers after every Arkansas layup or dagger three pointer seemingly took the will out of the Gators who felt like there was a lid on the rim the entire second half. Keith Stone was the one Florida player to play his best basketball finishing with 22 points and 5 rebounds providing the only breathes of fresh air to the offense. Now without any more opportunities to improve their NCAA Tournament resume the Gators have a little under a week to prepare themselves for whoever the bracket presents them. Arkansas now moves on to take on a Tennessee team who played a lackluster basketball game against Mississippi State, barely outlasting them for a win.
Jaylen Versus Jaylen
Jaylen Hudson and Jaylen Barford are the leaders of their respective teams offensively and whoever won the matchup was likely to lead their squad to victory. That was definitely the case tonight as Barford cooked the Gators for 27 points and 10 rebounds from the guard spot while Hudson showed serious struggles with 6 points on 2-9 shooting, missing the difficult looks that he has made often this season. Barford’s powerful and compact frame allowed him to bounce off Gators on his way to the hoop for easy points at the rim and his pull up game was crisp as he hit 4 threes. Florida needed a shot maker to break the seal tonight and though Hudson has been that guy many times this season, he wasn’t tonight. The Gators haven’t had anyone step up as a defensive stopper to play the other team’s elite guards and that is a hole opposing teams can definitely exploit.
Florida ran into a wall on offense, particularly in the second half, as they struggled to get looks against a switching “matchup” zone that Arkansas ran. The Razorbacks are a team that has struggled to defend at times and resorted to this switching brand of defense that is easy to play but easy for opponents to anticipate, yet the Gators couldn’t solve it. When a defense switches every screen you can’t go through your normal offensive progressions and this simple, basic move by the Razorbacks completely stymied the Gators. Florida will have to figure out how to account for defenses like these as they are likely to encounter them in the NCAA Tournament.
Though Keith Stone has a strong night many of the normal leaders for the Gators were frustrated tonight including Jalen Hudson (6 points, 2-9 shooting), KeVaughn Allen (11 points, 4-11 shooting), and Egor Koulechov (8 points, 2-11 shooting). Each one of them took their turns pulling up heat checks to try to establish some rhythm but they spun on the rim and left the Gators scrambling to get back defensively.
Arkansas was the physical aggressor when it came to rebounding and was quicker to the ball all night beating the Gators in that category 40-27. This is just another stat that points to Arkansas being the more active team despite having played less than 24 hours prior and the Gators’ lack of energy was one of the reasons they dropped this contest.
Late Game Tactics
The Gators, down by 11 with only a few minutes remaining, did a good job extending the game with ball pressure, fouling, and quick offense. Had KeVaughn Allen hit a few more free throws and the Gators didn’t get the raw end of an Arkansas throwaway that they instead called a Deaundrae Ballard foul they almost could have pulled this one back though it was a one in a million possibility. If you’re looking for a silver lining from this game, at least the Gators got some practice in late game execution.
What’s Up Next
The Gators await their fate from the NCAA Tournament Selection committee. By my estimation they should almost certainly be a 5 or (more likely) a 6 seed, though there are still lots of games for other teams in the mix left. They’ll wait by their televisions on Sunday to find out who they will open against in the big dance.
Have any hot takes from tonight’s game? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.