Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
We inform. You decide.
Sunday, May 29, 2022

The long road has ended.

What remains is just inches short of a dead end.

When the Gators (21-9, 8-7 Southeastern Conference) head to Lexington on Sunday to face Kentucky (17-11, 11-4 SEC), their NCAA Tournament hopes will hang on one last thread.

If UF can't win, its likely only chance to play in the Big Dance will be by winning the SEC Tournament, a heavy burden for this group.

There is very little hope for the Gators to receive an at-large bid with a .500 conference record, especially during a year where experts feel the SEC is below average.

The Gators are trying to look past all the hoopla and remain focused. UF coach Billy Donovan doesn't seem worried by the task, which he feels will elude this young bunch.

"No, I don't think they feel pressured," Donovan said. "Did they seem pressured against Tennessee? These guys are too young to think that far ahead."

The Gators seemed loose against Tennessee in the early going, but the squad came up short in a heartbreaking 89-86 loss.

UF flew out of the gate, playing a brand of motivated basketball seldom seen this season.

The Gators played as if they had everything to lose, and maybe, in the end, they lost everything.

The Gators blew a 16-point lead and made some costly mistakes down the stretch.

Marreese Speights failed to convert a free throw, and then UF allowed Tyler Smith to grab a rebound and put back an easy basket. Dan Werner was called for an offensive foul with less than 10 seconds remaining.

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Alligator delivered to your inbox

So at this point, one has to wonder: Did the Gators choke under the pressure?

"This was an important game," Speights said afterward. "We just didn't get it done."

Donovan kept pointing to how well UF played in the loss. For the second time against the Volunteers, the Gators proved they can hang with the nation's best. The problem is they can't close the deal, something that has hurt them.

"We played really hard," Nick Calathes said. "It just didn't work out for us."

Donovan said he hopes the team will be able to take the loss as a positive and grow together.

"When you have pain and hurt like that in the locker room, you have such an unbelievable chance to form a bond," Donovan said. "My biggest fear is that they don't recognize it because of their youthfulness."

Even if UF defeats the Wildcats, a tournament bid is not guaranteed. Kentucky is playing without leading scorer Patrick Patterson and is mired in a mediocre season.

The Wildcats have been a nice story, bouncing back from their early-season woes to post a gaudy conference record and a decent overall mark.

However, losses to Gardner-Webb and San Diego at home won't disappear.

UF hasn't lost to Kentucky since 2004, and if this group drops this one, they can break two records at once.

Starting with UF's seven consecutive wins against Kentucky - tied with Notre Dame for the most all time - and most likely its streak of nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

"I know you guys have to ask these questions," Donovan said. "I'm not even worried about that. I just want these guys to keep getting better."

Support your local paper
Donate Today
The Independent Florida Alligator has been independent of the university since 1971, your donation today could help #SaveStudentNewsrooms. Please consider giving today.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2022 The Independent Florida Alligator and Campus Communications, Inc.