Florida did not look like a team in midseason form on Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa.
In reality, how could it?
While most teams around the country have played 10-12 games at this point, the Gators have just seven under their belts.
Some would argue that is an advantage, just as they have about Ohio State in the College Football Playoff. It might be under different circumstances, but Florida’s situation is very unique.
Head coach Mike White said his team’s extended break from games following Keyontae Johnson’s collapse was far from an extra preseason. The players and coaches experienced a truly traumatizing event, and at that point, some things mattered more than basketball.
The Gators took much needed time to go home, hold their families close and mentally recover.
Once Florida left Tallahassee on December 12, it did not return to the court as a team until December 26. That left just four days to prepare for the SEC opener at Vanderbilt.
The Gators played well there and carried enough momentum over to defeat LSU a few days later, but it all stalled out against a hot Crimson Tide team.
Florida is still finding itself without the Preseason SEC Player of the Year, and it is going to have to continue to do that in short intervals throughout a grueling conference schedule.
“It’s really just been like survival mode right now,” White said. “I don’t know with this environment that we have a week or we’ll ever get 10 days. You know, it’s just one game after another. We really struggled at Bama, yet the NCAA requires a day off. We took a day off, we came back yesterday, and we’re talking about Kentucky. It’s going to be a very slow process.”
Earlier this week, White and junior forward Colin Castleton talked about how grateful the Gators felt just to be playing again, but their play didn’t quite translate that against Alabama.
“I think we’re really disciplined in certain areas, and I do think this team plays really hard, plays harder than the last couple of years’ teams,” White said. “Did we play hard the other night? I don’t think we did. Alabama had something to do with that.”
Florida struggled with poor shot selection, could not come up with defensive stops and got into foul trouble, which is far from a winning recipe.
White credited some of the issues to the team simply being out of shape right now. Three weeks off can have that effect.
“I don’t think we’re in as a good of shape right now as we’re going to be in a couple of weeks. With that comes poor decisions. And some of it is discipline, too. Are we undisciplined? No, I wouldn’t say that. But we’re not as disciplined as we need to be to compete for a championship right now. Hopefully we can get there.”
Nothing but time back on the court and in the weight room can fix that, but the Gators will have to find the strength to push through in the meantime.
Kentucky comes to town on Saturday, and though this Wildcats team is not off to its typical start (with a 3-6 record), it is finding its footing. After back-to-back wins to start SEC play, Kentucky will come to Gainesville looking to test Florida’s stamina.