Mike White

Coach Mike White

For the second time in a week, a top-four team graced a sold-out O'Connell Center with its presence.

Auburn couldn't buy a bucket against UF, losing by double-digits last Saturday.

This Saturday, however, Baylor had all of the answers.

The Bears pummeled the Gators on the glass and used its stifling defense to shut down Florida's offensive attack.

UF lost on the boards 37-26 and allowed the Bears to defend it at a high level on the three-point line, as the No. 1 team in the country handed the Gators its second home loss of the season 72-61.

Florida (12-7) lit the nets on fire to start the game, making six of their first nine shots and building an eight-point lead early.

Forward Keyontae Johnson gave the Gators their first initial jolt on the offensive side of the ball, scoring the team's first seven points.

That momentum continued for Florida for much of the first half, as the team led Baylor (17-1) for the first 12 minutes of the game.

Unfortunately for UF, the last eight minutes couldn't have gone much worse.

The top-ranked squad in the country showed why it's so deserving of that ranking, going on an 18-6 run to lead the Gators 40-29 at halftime.

"We just lost our focus in the first half, both defensively and offensively," guard Andrew Nembhard said after the game. "We started relaxing defensively, and (Baylor) capitalized."

The Bears looked long, athletic and physical and gave Florida a plethora of issues on the glass.

Baylor outrebounded the Gators 19-10 and shot nearly 60 percent from the field in the first half. The team was led by two double-digit scorers in guards Devonte Bandoo and MaCio Teague, who scored 11 and 10 points, respectively, during the first 20 minutes.

Florida lost its rhythm and that impressive start on offense dwindled down to a 39 percent shooting half. Johnson led UF with seven and forward Kerry Blackshear Jr., along with guard Tre Mann, were close behind with six points each.

In the second half, Florida continued to search for solutions on how to slow down its Big 12 opponent.

But much to the dismay of the packed O'Connell Center crowd, those answers never came.

Baylor built its double-digit lead to as many as 19 points, outscoring the home team 13-5 through the first six minutes of play in the second half.

Every time UF gave an inspired run, Baylor put an abrupt end to it.

The Gators inched close to cutting the lead to single digits multiple times during the latter part of the half, but missed opportunities at the basket and on the charity stripe for UF allowed Baylor to maintain a comfortable lead.

"Defensively, we're casual, we're soft, and at times we lack the discipline that the best defenses, like Baylor, in the country have," coach Mike White said. "And that's what we're striving for."

Johnson and Nembhard led Florida's scorers with 20 and 16, but what really hurt the team was the performances from some of its other impact players.

Center Omar Payne and Blackshear Jr. only combined for 11 points and eight rebounds in the contest.

Payne's impressive stretch came to a screeching halt on Saturday night, as the freshman only accumulated two points and four rebounds in 30 minutes of play.

Sharpshooting guard Noah Locke hit a three with 16:33 to go in the first half, but he failed to score the rest of the game, going 1 of 5 from three to help contribute to UF's woeful 4-of-17 performance from beyond the arc.

"They have good length, speed and quickness," White said, referring to Baylor's three-point defense. "We got them into rotations a few times, and unfortunately, we missed those ones ... I'm not sure that we were great at anything offensively in the last 30 minutes."

At 12-7, the margin for error is shrinking, but the turnaround may begin against Mississippi State on Tuesday. After their game against the Bulldogs, the Gators' next five games will be against teams in the bottom-tier of the SEC.

That didn't matter against Missouri, but if Florida is to have a legitimate chance at a postseason run, it'll be pivotal to win the games it's expected to win.

Follow Evan on Twitter @evanmplepak and contact him at [email protected].

Evan Lepak is a Sports Journalism student at the University of Florida. Evan is the assistant sports editor and is currently covering UF men's basketball. He has been with the Alligator since Summer 2018.