Column: Time for UF to step up

After a losing a winnable game against No.6 Kentucky (12-2, 1-0) on New Year’s Day, the Florida Gators (10-4, 0-1) look to forge onward through their Southeastern Conference schedule. They plan on capitalizing on opportunities of playing high-profile teams like Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia,and Kentucky (again), all of whom are ranked in the Top 25. At least, they better capitalize in order for their resume to look up to par come tournament time.

The Gators’ next three opponents consist of teams with a combined record of 34-8. Two of the three games will be true away games, which the Gators have had issues with in seasons’ past. They lost nine of their twelve away games last year. They also were average at best in conference play with a 7-9 record. Thus, the Gators have to improve in both aspects to be in the conversation for a spot in the NCAA tourney.

In Florida’s upcoming game on Friday, it travels to Oxford, Miss., to play against an Ole Miss (10-4, 0-1) squad that recently was dismantled by LSU in its last game, losing 83-44. If the Gators can get to a hot start on the road, they could take the Rebels out of the game quickly. However, the key for the Gators is to get this road win in conference play to build confidence before facing No. 21 Vanderbilt, No. 6 Kentucky and No. 15 Georgia’s home court. The game is set to begin at 8 p.m.

Florida has an opportunity not many teams get each season: To step up and prove they can compete with top tier teams. Playing at least eight games against ranked teams gives them this chance.

Beating a No.19 Florida State team 72-58, at the time, was an impressive feat for Florida. Even though Florida State (8-6, 0-0) has since faded away, the Gators got a solid win.

They then played against a highly touted No. 11 Rutgers (11-2, 0-0) team. Florida lost 63-49, but proved they could compete with the “elite” in the nation.

Their most recent game against No. 6 Kentucky was closely contested and Florida actually led for majority of the game. Even though it ended up a loss, the Gators walked away from the game with a moral victory of sorts.

They should now believe they can compete with any team in the nation, or risk returning to the same lackluster team that loses to a Pacific (7-5, 1-0) team 78-73. We will have to see.

Competing in a prolific conference like the SEC, a conference with an impressive record of 121 wins and only 32 losses in non-conference play this season, gives any team with success a commendable chance of moving on to play on the big stage come March. But another 7-9 record or something similar isn’t going to cut it. The Florida Gators will have to step up these next few months, or it’ll just be another trip to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.