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Gators fail to bolster tournament resume with loss at Mississippi State

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Posted: Thursday, March 5, 2009 12:00 am

The sky may have finally hit the ground for the Gators.

Bulldogs center Jarvis Varnado scored 13 points and grabbed eight boards as Mississippi State (18-12, 8-7 Southeastern Conference) beat UF (21-9, 8-7 SEC) 80-71 on Wednesday night in Starkville, Miss.

It was the third straight defeat for the Gators and one that will deliver a crushing blow to their NCAA Tournament hopes.

"Our weakness got exposed," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "They threw the ball into Varnado a few times, and he got to the basket."

Guard Nick Calathes hasn't had many bad nights this season, but this was one of them.

The sophomore played just 28 minutes and watched from the bench as his team tried to mount a late comeback.

"(Nick) has to understand how to incorporate the rest of the team," Donovan said. "He wants to take it all on his shoulders, but there are four other guys that with his passing and vision, he can make better."

Calathes finished with 11 points. It was the first time since Nov. 20 against Southern Utah that he failed to make a three. Calathes has knocked down 64 3-pointers this year.

Mississippi State came into the game riding a three-game losing streak, but the Bulldogs' unconventional four-guard lineup caused problems all night for the Gators, who shot just 28 percent (7 for 25) from the 3-point line.

"Some of our early threes led to the floor being unbalanced," Donovan said. "We almost took away our own energy at certain points. We didn't shoot the ball great."

Entering the contest, Mississippi State led the SEC in 3-pointers made per game at 8.5, while UF was second to last at defending the 3-point line.

The Bulldogs made 10 threes, shooting 50 percent from distance.

Coming into the game, Mississippi State led the SEC in blocked shots at 7.9 per game. Varnado averages 4.8 blocks per game.

UF went to 6-foot-10, 250-pound Kenny Kadji early to match up with the much thinner Varnado.

It seemed to work, as the Gators managed to hold the big man to just two blocks.

The Bulldogs led 42-33 at halftime, and the Gators are now 1-6 this season when trailing at the half.

UF came out fast in the second and cut Mississippi State's lead to 48-44 with 15 minutes to play.

But Mississippi State rallied back, shooting its way to a 66-51 lead after a 13-3 run with just less than seven minutes left. It was the Bulldogs' biggest lead of the game.

UF's largest lead of the game was just 2 points, and the team never led in the second half.

Forward Ray Shipman went down with a bloody lip late in the second half and did return to the game.

Guard Walter Hodge led all scorers with 20 points. It's the second time he has eclipsed the 20-point mark this season, the first was also in a loss to Georgia.

The senior was brought to tears during a team huddle late in the game.

"In all my years of coaching, I've never seen anything like that," Donovan said. "He wants to win so bad. He's trying to inspire the guys."

A radio broadcast contributed to this report.

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