Friday, March 13, 2009
Auburn 61 Florida 58
Quentez Robinson blocked Walter Hodge's three-point shot as the buzzer sounded to seal Auburn's win over Florida in the second round of the SEC basketball tournament. The loss cements UF's disappointing finish; after winning their first five conference games, the Gators dropped eight of their remaining thirteen in a six-week spasm of rotten play that was reminiscent of their 3-7 falloff to close last season.
This is Florida's second consecutive miss-out on the Big Dance that is the NCAA tournament after having their ticket punched nine years running from 1999 through 2007, closing that run with national championships in '06 and '07.
Does coach Billy Donovan find his seat a bit warmer? Probably not, or at least he should not. I am a big believer in Bill "the Sports Guy" Simmons's rule regarding five-year grace periods (see rule #12), and after back-to-back banners, Donovan could coast for another four or five years and still be deserving of having his name grace the O'Connell Center's hardwood floor. But there's no getting around the fact that too many of the Gators' losses over these two often heart-wrenching seasons are attributable to factors most people associate with poor coaching: Missing late-game free throws and not having someone get back for transition defense, which cost UF a shoulda-been-a-win game against South Carolina ... turnovers ... blown defensive assignments ... and, finally, putting the season-deciding shot in the hands of Hodge, a bit player for most of his first three years and not a light-it-up scorer as a senior (although, in fairness, he did hit a three on the prior possession to keep Florida within striking distance) when Nick Calathes, Dan Werner, and Erving Walker are all equally good or better from three-ball land. Florida was second to league-champion LSU in per-possession point margin, outscoring its opponents by 4.55 points per 65 possessions and was first in offense at 71.5 points per 65 possessions, yet will miss the tournament. Some of this hangs on the middle-aged man with the suit and clipboard -- and the $2.5 million salary.
The SEC tourney continues tomorrow with LSU playing Mississippi State and Tennessee squaring off with Auburn, with the winners playing in Sunday's final, but who the hell cares?
Florida is going to the NIT. Again. Oh, the ignomy.