The Florida Gator basketball team will stagger into next week's SEC Tournament as the No. 1 seed, despite having gone scoreless in the final 7:36 of the regular season and looking anything like a conference champion.
The result of this latest meltdown was yet another inexplicable loss for the 11th-ranked Gators, who fell to Kentucky 61-57 at Rupp Arena in the SEC regular-season finale.
For Kentucky (21-10, 12-6), it was a much-needed win that may have kept their NCAA tournament bid hopes alive. For the Gators (24-6, 14-4), who clinched the SEC title earlier this week, the loss all but eliminates their chance at a top seed on Selection Sunday.
Once again, coach Billy Donovan's Gators showed an inability to finish a game on the road.
Florida was seemingly in control after guard Scottie Wilbekin hit a 3-pointer putting the Gators ahead 57-50 with 7:36 remaining.
What followed next was an all-too-familiar scenario for Florida, which has made a habit of blowing leads against quality opponents on the road. Against Kentucky, Florida committed 12 turnovers and missed its final 11 shots to end the game.
Despite an experienced backcourt, the Gators once again showed a lack of leadership with a combination of poor shot selection and sloppy ball-handling.
Senior guard Kenny Boynton, who leads the Gators in scoring, attempted only one field goal in the second half, a missed jumper with 15 seconds to play. Boynton scored all nine of his points in the first half.
The Gators, who lead the SEC in fewest free-throw attempts, never attempted a free throw in the final 13 minutes of the game.
Unfortunately for the Gators, the collapse at Kentucky looks more like a pattern than an aberration.
In earlier losses this season, Florida blew an 11-point lead with 10 minutes remaining at Arizona and squandered a 13-point lead with 10:56 remaining at Missouri.
In each case, the Florida offense seemed out of sync with no leadership on the court. Despite having won the SEC, the Gators end the regular season without a road win against a quality conference opponent.
Florida, whose season has been predicated on a stingy defense, must find a better offensive rhythm, especially in the clutch, if it is to advance beyond the early rounds of the NCAA tournament.
With a bye in the first round of the SEC tournament, the Gators still have enough talent and opportunity to regain their focus in time for a strong postseason showing. But unless this team develops chemistry in close game situations, they may not be cutting down any more nets this season.
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