For the first five minutes of the game, the Florida Gators gave the No. 1 team in the country all they could handle. The Gators led No. 1 Baylor for the first 12:45 of the game, in fact, but Baylor proved why they’re the top-ranked team in the country in a 72-61 win in Gainesville on Saturday night.
The loss dropped Florida to just 2-17 all-time against AP No. 1 ranked teams and 0-4 under Mike White.
Keyontae Johnson came out of the gates with his hair on fire. The sophomore scored the first seven Florida points and Florida led Baylor by as much as eight in the first seven minutes. The arena was rocking, the crowd exploding with every Gator basket and it appeared that Florida’s atmosphere was, in some ways affecting the Bears.
“I told them we needed to get started early and get (the crowd) out of it and the opposite happened, so it wasn’t any good speech, that’s for sure,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said after the game. “We wanted to start fast, they started faster than us but I think that’s where the experience comes in. We’ve got guys, a lot of guys that have been through the battles and wars and they don’t get rattled as easy as someone who hasn’t
Baylor weathered that initial storm and burst of adrenaline that Florida drew from the crowd and the stage and showed their experience. Devonte Bandoo drilled a three with 7:15 to play in the first half to give Baylor its first lead of the game. Florida would tie the game twice more in the first half but Baylor ended the first half outscoring Florida 13-2 to take a commanding 11-point lead into the locker room.
Florida pulled the lead into single digits just once in the second half — an Omar Payne dunk 29 seconds into the half — made it a nine-point game but Baylor’s perseverance was unrelenting, specifically on the glass. Baylor out-rebounded Florida 37-26 with 13 of those boards coming on the offensive glass.
“Speed, quickness, strength, aggressiveness, intensity, all of it,” White said when asked about Baylor’s effectiveness rebounding on Saturday night. “Three go every time and sometimes four go. To me, it looks like they really embrace it.”
The loss is Florida’s second consecutive this week and leaves the team that was ranked in the top-10 to start the season sitting just 12-7 (4-2 SEC). IT’s certainly not where they expected to be, where they want to be and now they’re left with a gut check.
“This team has to learn that every possession is potentially the winning possession of the game. Every possession. That takes maturity and we’re an immature team right now,” White said after the game. “We’re nowhere near where we need to be a championship team.”
The answers aren’t readily available as to how White and the Gators can turn the season around but time is slowly ticking away. They’ll get a softer part of the schedule in the coming weeks but this remains a team that
This remains a team, at best, that simply hasn’t found an identity yet and, at worst, one that doesn’t have one.