For the Florida basketball team this year, victories have come rather easily.
The Gators are 23-5 and 13-3 in the SEC, and in what might be the strangest of all stats in college basketball this season, they have only played four games that have been decided by single digits. Unfortunately for Florida, it has lost all four of those games.
It is March, and the Gators do not have a close victory on their resume. They have not had a game where they grinded out a win or had someone step up to hit a big shot in a key moment. Florida has not come through in a clutch, late-game situation to earn a single win this season.
That is troubling for a team that has aspirations of winning a national title. Somewhere over the course of the six games it would take to win a championship, Florida most likely is going to have to win a game by making plays down the stretch.
That was why Saturday’s win over Alabama was as crucial as any on Florida’s schedule. It showed that Florida can overcome adversity late in a game.
The Gators beat the Crimson Tide, 64-52, in a game in which the final margin was a bit deceiving.
The score seemed to tell a familiar story, one where the Gators comfortably pulled out a SEC home victory. But while the score told one story, how the teams got there told another.
Unlike the rest of Florida’s victories in the SEC this season, this one was in doubt well into the second half. Alabama led 45-37 with 12:07 remaining after a Trevor Releford layup. Against a desperate Crimson Tide team, Florida proceeded to go on a 19-2 run to take control of the game.
Florida needed a win like this. In reality, Florida needs more wins like this. The Gators need all the exposure they can get to late-game adversity because of their struggles in those situations.
Back in December, Florida blew a six-point lead at Arizona with less than a minute left and lost 65-64. On Feb. 19 at Missouri, the Gators let a 13-point lead with just less than 11 minutes slip away in a 63-60 defeat.
That is not a mental block that Billy Donovan’s club wants entering the NCAA tournament. It only makes sense that Florida would rather have more positive experiences from which to draw.
A few days ago, CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman posed this question on Twitter:
It is a question that the Gators have had trouble answering in their close games to date. At Missouri, Kenny Boynton ended up taking two long perimeter shots in the final minute while only trailing by one point.
That, obviously, is not the best answer for Florida. Billy Donovan does not have a player he can trust to put the ball in his hands and hope he makes a play.
Will Florida's late-game struggles cost it in the NCAA tournament?
Donovan will just have to hope that the team basketball the Gators have played to this point comes through in clutch situations. That might not give Florida fans a lot of security. After all, it’s nice to know there is a player on the roster one can trust with the ball in his hands in clutch situations.
Against Alabama, the Gators turned the tide with team basketball, especially sharing the ball on offense. When the time comes, Florida will have to pull through in the clutch the same way.
The Gators showed they could overcome late adversity with that approach Saturday. That was an important start to what Florida hopes will be a fruitful five weeks.