It’s been an up and down basketball season, Gator fans… and that is putting it gently. After starting the season as a potential Final Four favorite, the Gators fell off completely through December, showed some spark, and then fizzled out once again before finally finding their groove in the weeks leading up to the big dance.
Mid-February it seemed the Gators story had been written. Lots of potential, but none of the heart. Coach Mike White was left with his head shaking as his team continued to let game after game slip away from them. No lead seemed to be safe and after losing to now-ranked #13 Tennessee, the Gators were questioning if an NCAA bid was ever in their future.
To be fair, this has always been a flawed team. No interior presence has hurt the Gators both offensively and defensively. With their opponents knowing how to take advantage of their lack of size, it was up to the team to use their athleticism to make up the for the deficiencies – only it just wasn’t working with no true leadership urging the boys forward. That is, until now.
The Gators bounced back at home against now-#16 Auburn to win an important game against the SEC’s top team. A fire seemed to have been lit as they immediately turned around and completely destroyed Alabama in Tuscaloosa by more than 20 points. Feeling good and enjoying their newfound energy, the Gators took on their biggest rival, Kentucky, this past weekend in Gainesville – beating them by a score of 80-67, the largest loss for the Wildcats this season, snapping their 4 game win streak, AND sweeping the season series for the 6th time in history.
Damn that felt good. And now, with all the momentum seemingly going their way, the Gators go into the SEC tournament as the No. 3 seed and receive a double bye going into the quarterfinals to be played on Friday. After a strong finish to the regular season where everyone seems to be moving and grooving, the Gators look to continue to keep the fun going.
“Where’s the confidence, 1-10? I’d say it’s pretty high. I don’t want to put a number on it. But we feel really good right now,” guard Jalen Hudson said. “We’re definitely in a groove. I think we’ve got a good thing going right now.” Chris Chiozza added, “As confident as we’ve been all season, going back to the beginning. It’s going to be fun to see what happens.”
It was also enough to jump the Gators back into the AP poll where they now sit at #23.
While this team has been completely up and down all season the outlook is certainly a lot more encouraging than it seemed just a couple weeks ago, but the job isn’t done yet. Having a strong finish in the SEC tournament will not only help their seeding going into the Big Dance, but it will keep a fragile team hot as they continue to turn heads.