Jalen Hudson

Florida guard Jalen Hudson scored 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting in UF's 73-61 loss to Tennessee on Saturday.

 

Florida’s men’s basketball team went face-to-face against the top-ranked team in the country on Saturday and came up short. It trailed for nearly the whole game against the superior Volunteers, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t encouraging signs for the Gators in the 73-61 loss.

The Gators (12-11, 4-6 SEC) may be teetering just above .500, but there are several reasons why fans should be cautiously optimistic moving forward.

The Gators fought until the end

UF looked gassed in the second half of its 14-point loss to Auburn on Feb. 5, but that wasn’t the case against the Vols. UT shot 52.8 percent (including a mark of 59.3 percent in the second half). Beating the best team in the country when it shoots like that is a near-impossible task, but Florida fought to make the end result respectable.

Freshman Noah Locke’s 12 second-half points kept the Gators in reach for much of the second period. UF trailed by seven with just over 10 minutes to play in the game, but when the shots fell for Tennessee, the Gators lacked the offense to keep up. Despite trailing by 19 with five minutes left, Florida narrowed that gap to 12 by the end of the contest. It may not be much consolation for a team desperate for wins, but UF showed it can respond when facing difficult circumstances on the road.

The Gators played big

In Florida’s first matchup with the Volunteers, Tennessee won on the boards. Offensive rebounds turned into key second-chance points as UT overpowered UF down the stretch.

The Gators’ size has been an issue all year, with 6-foot-9 Kevarrius Hayes being their tallest healthy player. This time around, however, Florida played much more physically under the basket.

It out-rebounded Tennessee 33-31 and almost doubled it in offensive boards. Hayes had nine rebounds, while KeVaughn Allen came down with a season-high seven rebounds.

If this carries on, it will certainly boost Florida’s chances in upcoming winnable contests.

Jalen Hudson is back?

Hudson entered the year poised to be the bell cow for Florida’s stable of sharpshooters, but instead, he has been largely an afterthought. Hudson’s minutes have seen an uptick since Keith Stone’s season-ending ACL injury in January, and he seems to be getting more comfortable on the court.

Hudson tied his season high in points with 15 against the Vols. He scored 15 previously against La Salle on Nov. 14, but doing it against an SEC foe — the No. 1 team in the country, no less — should help Hudson regain his confidence.

His effort was second on the team (behind Locke’s 17 points). He may have shot 0-for-5 from behind the three-point line, but the Gators will take it.

Hudson passed up a chance at the NBA last offseason, and based on the way his season has played out so far, that could have been a mistake. But with a handful of games left to make his mark in the Orange and Blue, Hudson hopes that his solid performance against Tennessee becomes the rule, not the exception.

Follow Tyler Nettuno on Twitter @TylerNettuno and contact him at [email protected].

Tyler Nettuno is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the University of Florida men's basketball team. He has previously covered UF golf and lacrosse. He has worked at the paper since Fall 2017.