Gators lose momentum, not confidence

Florida isn’t heading into the Southeastern Conference tournament with the positive momentum it had built earlier this season.

A 74-59 loss at home Sunday against No. 1 Kentucky was UF’s third straight loss, its longest losing streak since losing three in a row to close the 2009-10 regular season. The Gators (22-9, 10-6 SEC) dropped to the No. 4 overall seed in the SEC Tournament and will play the winner of Alabama and South Carolina on Friday afternoon in the quarterfinals in New Orleans.

“I don’t think our confidence is ever going to be a problem,” Florida junior forward Erik Murphy said. “We’ve got a bunch of confident guys on this team. We haven’t been playing too great and hopefully we can start putting it together.”

Florida had its chances to pull off an upset, trailing Kentucky 59-55 with 9:02 remaining after an inside hook shot from Patric Young. But the Gators were held to just one field goal and four points the remainder of the game. Florida missed eight straight shots during the span, a stretch that included some wide-open looks that rimmed in and out.

Florida went 2 of 11 from 3-point range in the first and 6 for 22 (27.3 percent) for the game.

“I thought we had great shots, as good of shots as you are going to get against them,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.

The Gators still have time to regroup at the SEC Tournament, where the goal will be to advance as deep as possible. But it won’t be easy. If Florida wins its quarterfinal matchup, it will likely face No. 1 Kentucky again in the tournament semifinals.

“I’m just hopeful that at the right time our guys can understand what is to be taken from the experiences that they’ve gone through up to this point and time,” Donovan said. “And if they really, really buy into (it) and are committed … and that’s the biggest thing, the commitment to not only work hard but the commitment of this is what needs to be done collectively as a group.”

NOTES, QUOTES

-Florida had a strong assist-to-turnover ratio against Kentucky (14-7) but still couldn’t pull out the win. Still it was encouraging considering Florida had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 15-to-30 in its previous two losses. “We’ve got to move the ball, always,” Florida senior PG Erving Walker said. “I think we did a fairly good job of that and some guys, we got open threes; it’s not like all of the shots were contested. We just didn’t make the shots.”

-Florida was shooting just 27.5 percent (19 for 69) from 3-point range during its three-game losing streak.

-With the loss to Kentucky, Florida dropped to 2-9 all-time against No. 1 teams. Florida’s lone wins against No. 1 teams were vs. Duke (2000 NCAA Tournament) and Ohio State (2007 NCAA Tournament).

THIS WEEK’S GAMES

vs. Alabama/South Carolina, SEC Tournament, at New Orleans, March 9

KEY MATCHUPS: The Gators have a combined 3-0 record against both teams. If Florida plays against Alabama, the key will be for UF sophomore C Patric Young to have a strong game against Alabama C JaMychal Green. Young had 19 points in his last meeting against Alabama, but Green did not play because he was suspended from the team for disciplinary reasons.

On the perimeter, G Kenny Boynton will need to do a good job against Alabama G Trevor Releford. If the Gators play South Carolina, the key will be for Young to play strong inside against South Carolina C Malik Cooke. Florida senior PG Erving Walker will have to contain speedy South Carolina PG Bruce Ellington.

FUTURES MARKET

Freshman Bradley Beal struggled against Kentucky, finishing with just five points and seven rebounds on 1 of 10 shooting from the floor. Beal left the game in the final 10 minutes with an ankle injury but returned after a visit to the trainer’s room.

PLAYER NOTES

-C Patric Young had 21 points and nine rebounds against Kentucky. For Young, it was his highest scoring output in SEC play and four shy of his career-high of 25 points, set last Dec. 7 vs. Arizona. Young, who has been bothered by ankle tendinitis, has only reached double-figures in scoring in 6 of 16 games this season.

“I just have to bring the same thing everyday, just the mentality,” Young said. “I have to come in with the right mindset in practice. Any given night, we have so many scorers on our team, it just happened to be my night finally. Hopefully I can continue this on to the SEC Tournament because it’s live or die from here on out.”

-G Scottie Wilbekin made his second career start against Kentucky, but finished with 0 points and an assist in 22 minutes. Wilbekin started for Kenny Boynton, who was punished for showing up late to a team meeting. Boynton had seven points and two assists in 25 minutes off the bench.

-Redshirt freshman F Cody Larson sat out the Vanderbilt game with a hyperextended knee. Larson returned to practice later in the week but did not play against Kentucky (coach’s decision).

QUOTE TO NOTE

“Whether you play hard or not, you’ve got to come out with the win. We’re in a one-and-done situation now, so we gotta figure this out.” — Florida senior PG Erving Walker, on UF’s current three-game losing streak.