By Jordan McPherseon – OnlyGators.com Contributor
Florida Gators basketball dropped its first Southeastern Conference game of the season on Saturday afternoon, falling 73-61 to the Georgia Bulldogs at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia. Florida (10-7, 3-1 SEC) struggled out of the gate as Georgia took a lead that it never relinquished over the course of the 40 minutes.
“I think the performance says it all. I don’t want to take anything away from Georgia. … In a lot of ways, I was actually surprised it was as close as it was. It felt like they outplayed us in every facet,” head coach Billy Donovan said after the game. “It was a disappointing response coming off a quick turnaround.”
OnlyGators.com breaks down Saturday’s action with nine quick-hitters:
It was over when: The Bulldogs extended their lead to 15 points (59-44) on a Kenny Gaines three-pointer with 7:56 left to play. That basket helped UGA regain its largest lead of the contest just minutes after UF cut its large deficit to two points.
Significant stretch: The Gators cut their game-long deficit to two early in the second half but suffered from their own miscues, committing four turnovers that allowed an 10-1 Bulldogs run, pushing Georgia ahead of Florida 56-41 with 11 minutes left. UF turned it over seven times during an extended stretch as UGA went 6-for-7 from the field and 5-of-6 from the charity stripe.
“For me, this game is a microcosm of our team. This would be a great example of what I watch in practice. This is what I watch,” Donovan said.
“The hardest thing for young players, in my opinion, is to be consistent day in and day out, day in and day out. A lot of that comes with maturity. We’ve showed moments this year with great, brilliant flashes … we’ve shown great signs. But here’s an example of inconsistency. We’re just very, very inconsistent. It is, for a lot of these guys, very mentally overwhelming and draining to come every day and be able to have the focus and attention to detail and be consistent. I’m concerned every game. There’s not a game I go into and sit there and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to be fine.’”
Prominent players: Gaines and Marcus Thornton lit up the scoreboard, posting a combined 32 points for the Bulldogs. UGA also had two other players — Charles Mann and J.J. Frazier – reach double figures. Gators freshman forward Devin Robinson and redshirt junior F Dorian Finney-Smith each tallied 11 points and combined for nine of UF’s 26 total rebounds.
First half focus: Georgia opened up the game with a 12-0 run and led 19-6 early as it hit seven-straight field goals (four from beyond the arc) and a free throw with Florida starting 0-for-6 from the floor. The Gators kept their heads and competed for the duration of the half, cutting their deficit to five by making 6-of-8 field goals to end the first 20 minutes.
Perfect play: With Florida trailing by five at the break, Robinson hit a quick trey to cut his team’s deficit to two points just 14 seconds into the second half. This marked the closest the Gators came to taking a lead against the Bulldogs; it was also just Florida’s second three-point make of the game.
Standout stat: The Gators turned the ball over a season-high 19 times against the Bulldogs on Saturday, leading to 16 points for Georgia. Those 19 turnovers marked the most in a single game by Florida since it recorded 20 in its 74-56 win against Wisconsin on Nov. 14, 2012. Freshman point guard Kasey Hill, who turned the ball over just once in UF’s last two games, coughed it up three times on Saturday. “It’s hard to overcome 19 turnovers,” Donovan said.
What it means: Georgia exposed a weakness in Florida’s inability to defend the three-point line. UGA converted 53.3-percent of its shots from downtown with Gaines making four of his five attempts. The loss also snaps UF’s 24-game overall win streak in SEC play, which includes 21 consecutive regular-season games and 10 road wins in a row against SEC opponents.
Next up: Florida has another short turnaround as it returns to Gainesville to host LSU on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Everything else: Redshirt junior G Eli Carter and junior G Michael Frazier II were UF’s first two players off the bench … Florida continued to struggle defensively, accruing 19 fouls on Saturday with Hill and sophomore F Chris Walker each accounting for four … it is the fourth time in five games that the Gators have committed 19 or more fouls in the contest … Walker matched Finney-Smith with a team-high six boards, but Walker struggled once again offensively, hitting 1-of-3 shots for two points in 17 minutes … Frazier and Finney-Smith sat out a large portion of the second half
“I just felt like, you know what, as older guys sometimes when those guys have been in these situations, you expect more from them not in terms of performance but in terms of defense, leadership, those kind of things,” explained Donovan. “I felt like [giving the freshmen] some experience. These older guys aren’t playing at the level we need to play at. To be honest with you, I spent the whole second half just searching for any kind of lineup that would give us a spark, get some stops.”