Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators fall below .500 as Vanderbilt sweeps season series

By OnlyGators.com Staff
February 25, 2023
Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators fall below .500 as Vanderbilt sweeps season series

Image Credit: UAA

With a loss for the sixth time in their last seven games, the Florida Gators have fallen below .500 on the 2022-23 campaign and are now in danger of finishing the season under that mark for just the second time since 1998. Florida fell 88-72 to the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday night, falling to 0-2 in the season series while only briefly getting within single digits during the second half.

Sitting at 14-15 (7-9 SEC), the Gators are on the verge of earning one of the bottom seeds in the 2023 SEC Tournament, which will make their already far-fetched odds of earning an NCAA Tournament berth even more unlikely. (UF will have to win the SEC crown to gain entry.) There are not many achievable goals left this season, though Florida will wrap the regular season with a pair of opponents it has already defeated this campaign.

Let’s take a look at what went down Saturday night with Fastbreak Takeaways.

It was over when … Vanderbilt hit consecutive 3-pointers to kick off a 10-1 run that put the hosts ahead 19 points with 2 minutes to play. Florida worked hard to cut its deficit to single digits in the period, but game-long rebounding and free throw shooting problems stalled its progress. The ‘Dores took advantage with those consecutive triples and cruised to victory, holding the lead for the final 36:24 of the game (spanning halftime).

First half focus: Though Florida got off to a hot start offensively for the second straight game and held Vanderbilt from piecing together any significant scoring stretches, the Gators trailed for the final 16:24 of the opening period and took a 10-point deficit into the break. Florida was dominated inside with its big men grabbing just a single rebound in 20 minutes combined. Meanwhile, guards redshirt senior Kyle Lofton and freshman Riley Kugel combined for 26 of the team’s 36 points, making 5 of 8 shots from downtown while grabbing seven boards.

Exceptional efforts: Though Lofton and Kugel were tremendous early in the game, they were non-factors in the latter 20 minutes. The duo combined to score nine points on 4 of 12 shooting in the second half. Lofton finished with 15 points (5/11 FG, 3/6 3PT), three rebounds and two assists, while Kugel posted 20 points (8/19 FG, 2/4 3PT) with four boards and a dime. He only hit 2 of 5 free throws, representative of his team’s struggles at the line (.529), but finished with 20+ points for the second straight game. Kugel has averaged 17.7 points over the last six contests.

Odds and ends: Florida dropped consecutive games to Vanderbilt for the first time since 2017; the Gators had won nine straight meetings entering this season … UF fell to 73-73 all-time against VU with a 21-49 record on the road … Florida was dominated on the boards for the second straight game (42-31) but held serve with Vanderbilt in most other categories … the Gators fell to 0-14 when trailing with 5 minutes left, 1-12 when being outshot from the field and 6-13 when being outrebounded … senior center Jason Jitoboh and freshman forward Aleks Szymczyk combined for 13 points, four rebounds and eight fouls

What it means: With just two games remaining in the regular season and their play unlikely to improve, the Gators are facing a finish below .500 for just the second time since 1998. Even if Florida is ultimately invited to the NIT — no sure thing — taking the bid seems unlikely, which means the Gators’ season will likely end with the SEC Tournament in two weeks. UF’s lone path to the NCAA Tournament is winning the league crown, though without star Colin Castleton — and given the depth of talent in the league — that is a significant unlikelihood.

What’s next? Florida will travel to Georgia on Tuesday where it will face former head coach Mike White for the second time this season. UF won the prior meeting 82-75 with the teams combining to go 11-17 since. Tuesday’s game will tip off at 7 p.m. ET and air live on SEC Network. The Gators conclude the regular season at home next Saturday for a 6 p.m. tip against LSU, another team it beat earlier this season.

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