In a metaphor, Florida’s 82-72 win over Missouri can be described as putting a band aid on a stab wound.
The Gators finally ended their four game losing streak last night, which is good. Then again, it came against the worst team in the SEC- a brain dead, postseason-ineligible Missouri team with a 10-21 record and nothing to play for- but it’s always better to have won a game than lost it.
Unfortunately, that’s where my ability to remain simultaneously positive and unbiased end.
Florida raced out to a 21-6 lead within no time, and the game seemed to be well in hand from that moment on. The Gators dropped in nine threes, including a big one from Dorian Finney-Smith early in the second half to stop a small Mizzou run, and shot well from the free throw line for a change. The lead eventually ballooned up to 64-43 with under 12 minutes to play.
And then the Gators totally collapsed, allowing the Tigers to vault themselves right back into the game with lapses on both ends of the floor. Florida couldn’t stop Namon Wright (19 points and 7 rebounds) or Kevin Puryear (11 and 6) and in the blink of an eye, the lead was down to 10. Missouri dominated the boards for the duration of the game, and actually outrebounded Florida 40-37 on the night. Luckily, Missouri was in far too deep a hole to climb out of, even though they did eventually chip the deficit down to single digits.
That’s when the unlikeliest of heroes came through.
Kasey Hill has taken a beating for pretty much everything there is to criticize a player for, and some of that blame isn’t really misplaced. But he delivered last night with a three from right near the coaches’ line that knocked the Tigers down for the count with four minutes to go. And at long last, Florida had their first win on Missouri’s home court, not to mention their first win in three weeks.
Of course, Florida’s NCAA Tournament status is still far from safe. Realistically, they need to beat Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday and then Texas A&M on Friday to even have a chance. Even if they do, it’s still not a guarantee that they’ll be in. That’s the damage losing four consecutive games does to a team that’s only projected in as an eight seed anyway. Beating Missouri neither fixes the damage done to the Gators’ resume nor the inconsistent play by pretty much every Gator other than maybe John Egbunu, and so there’s more reason to be nervous about this team’s chances than excited.
But while the Gators’ postseason future is uncertain, the SEC Tournament ensures that there is one surefire way the Gators will solve all their problems, silence their critics and make the NCAA Tournament.
Just keep winning.