The Gators were coming off one of their most convincing wins to date. With their best player in forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. on the bench most of the night due to early foul trouble, they pulled out a convincing 81-68 win at Columbia, South Carolina against the Gamecocks on Tuesday.
The team was 2-0 in SEC play and had won three in a row before traveling to what turned out to be an inverted version of the game it had just won — although it was still Columbia.
Columbia, Missouri, was the site of Florida’s 91-75 dismantling on Saturday and where the team came crashing back to earth.
It seemed that nothing could go right for Florida and its latest success seemed nothing more than a distant memory.
Guard Andrew Nembhard was playing his best basketball of the season going into Mizzou. He had just come off back-to-back 20-point games before only finding the bottom of the net twice against the Tigers for eight points.
And a team that put together a miraculous offensive performance without their top scorer in Blackshear Jr. struggled mightily without him.
Blackshear Jr. scored 22 points on Saturday with the next leading scorer being guard Noah Locke at only 12 points.
It was a who’s who of whose fault it was. What the Gators didn’t find on offense, they certainly didn’t find on the defensive side of the ball.
“Our last two games weren’t our best defensive performances and it was a big emphasis in practice to make sure we get back to that,” Locke said in a release after the game.
The Tigers made 12 threes and shot an unprecedented 63.2 percent from behind the arc — a pace that Florida simply couldn’t match at 43.5 percent
“Our approach defensively, in terms of readiness and intensity level, was not on point from the tip,” Florida coach Mike White said. “We dug ourselves a hole.”
That hole was as deep as 24 points — the largest deficit of the season for the Gators.
Although Florida’s defense left something to be desired, the Tigers were simply making shots that they — or any team for that matter — don’t usually make.
“I can’t remember the last time that happened to us at Florida,” White said. “They dominated us.”
Defense, one of Florida’s biggest strengths, will be a major point of emphasis in this next stretch of SEC games.
Although Mizzou’s shooting may be an enigma, Florida (10-5, 2-1 SEC) will have a chance to rebound against Ole Miss (9-6, 0-2 SEC) in Gainesville on Tuesday.
The Rebels have dropped their last three games where they averaged just under 58 points during that stretch.
If there was ever a time for Florida to boost its confidence in this seesaw of a season, it would be on Tuesday.
Follow Joseph on Twitter @JSalvadorSports and contact him at [email protected]lligator.org.