Egor Koulechov’s tone of voice matched the way Florida played in an 83-66 home loss: soft.
“It’s a reality check,” the guard transfer said Monday no louder than a whisper.
He was understandably reserved. Minutes before, the Seminoles topped Florida for the fourth season in a row — this time against a UF team ranked No. 5 in the country.
The Gators didn’t play like a top-five team. Florida’s offense flailed, its defense looked lost and its intensity was more erratic than concentrated. The best way to describe it, other than soft, was embarrassing.
But it’s an embarrassment the Gators needed. I can explain why.
Their only loss before Monday had come in a tight game against No. 1 Duke, and Florida was rewarded for that loss. The team moved from No. 6 in national rankings to No. 5. And fans and columnists were quick to deem the loss a “win” since UF played the Blue Devils so closely.
Monday was different. It was the Gators’ first real loss. The one they won’t be lauded for. The one that will bother them. The one that will sap any pride out of a young, boastful team.
But to be an elite team, you have to learn how to lose. You have to see your fans file out with six minutes left in the game. You have to see your rival celebrate on your court. You have to watch your coach’s disappointment after you fail to do your job.
UF’s players can’t coast through the season thinking they’re a gift to basketball. They had to experience a low point to achieve some focus.
To their credit, a few players recognize that already.
“I think maybe we felt too good about ourselves,” Koulechov said.
His teammate, guard Jalen Hudson, echoed the sentiment.
“We’re not as good as we really think we are,” Hudson, Florida’s top scorer on the night (16 points), said.
The Gators could’ve made excuses. They didn’t have the size of FSU. They suffered some egregious calls from the referees. Their shots simply weren’t falling.
But for White and the players, it came back to toughness. And losses teach toughness. So while this loss stings, the adrenaline rush from the pain can still fuel response from Florida over its next couple games.
After all, the Gators can’t rise unless they’re knocked down in the first place.
“A lot of growing up to do,” Hudson said. “This was unacceptable.”
You can follow Matt Brannon @MattB_727 or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.