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Kentucky 74, Florida 59: The Gators Are Who They Are


I'm tired of a lot of the songs that have become marching band staples in the last two or three years — I no longer care about where Taio Cruz is putting his hands, and I'm ready for "Party Rock Anthem" to become a novelty rather than a regular feature — but I still love Ke$ha's "We R Who We R." Without getting too into the music criticism about it, it's one of the more interesting jams in recent memory, and it gives the horn section a lot to do; today, though, it's important because, in the wake of Florida's 74-59 loss to Kentucky, the "Tonight, we're going har-har-har-har-har-hard" and "We arrrre who we arrre" refrains seem like statements of fact for Florida.

Here's another fact: The Gators played well in the loss.

Patric Young's 21 points and nine rebounds — almost all at the expense of Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones, two future NBA players, and many on a variety of acrobatic moves — constituted his best performance in a Florida uniform. He still struggled from time to time on defense, and despite Billy Donovan saying he doesn't think there's anything wrong with Young physically, I think the lingering tendinitis in his ankle, exacerbated a few times in recent weeks, has screwed up his timing as a leaper, which compounds some of his technical deficiencies as a rebounder. But this is the Patric Young we wanted to see in every game this year, and if he should come back to Florida for his junior season (I think he's more likely to turn pro than not), he could be one of the nation's best players if he builds on performances like this one.

Erik Murphy was really good, too, with 14 points and eight rebounds that were mostly overshadowed by Young being better. That both of Florida's somewhat undersized interior players — Young is short for a center, and Murphy more slight than one would ideally want in a power forward — got their points against Davis and Jones, two tremendous defenders, is heartening. Getting offense from the frontcourt wasn't the problem against Kentucky, and that left me sort of stunned. (Also stunning: Free throws, so long the Gators' biggest weakness, were no problem at all, as the Gators sank all 11 of their charity stripe shots.)

I'm less stunned that Florida lost this game with its guard play and on defense, of course. Florida doesn't have size or athleticism on par with Kentucky's Marquis Teaque, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller; Bradley Beal, the only guy as athletic as, say, Kidd-Gilchrist, is not nearly as tall. That has ramifications on offense and defense, especially when it comes to getting open shots and contesting shots; the Gators did a good job of the latter, but could not make much headway with the former, as Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, and Beal combined to shoot just 6-for-29 from the field. They weren't taking terrible shots, by and large, but the Gators' three primary guards weren't getting easy ones, because there aren't any against Kentucky, and they weren't making the hard ones. It happens.

The bigger problem? Davis and Jones got what they wanted on drives and oops. Young was valiant, but Davis is just quicker and longer, and the sort of spidery, freakish athlete who can get to the rim despite his size; his defter-than-you-think shooting touch makes him extraordinarily hard to defend, and he sank one of his two threes on the day seemingly just to prove he could.

Jones, on the other hand, completely outclassed Murphy, beginning the game with a jumper and two layups and adding a tip-in in the first 2:22 of action and finishing with 19 points. Murphy's strengths as a defender are contesting cleanly in the post and swooping in from the weak side to snuff out shots, and the Wildcats smartly didn't give him the luxury of staying in his comfort zone, instead attacking him off the dribble to great effect.

The Gators played hard, as hard as they have in the post-Will Yeguete period, rallying from an 11-4 blitz out of the gate to take the lead back from Kentucky and whittling an 18-point halftime deficit to a two-point edge in the first 4:35 of the second half. I'm proud of them for that, because consistent effort on a consistent basis has been elusive all year. But all of the other things — the defensive challenges based on size and athleticism, the missed shots, the inability to create great shots, the streakiness — those are all flaws in Florida's roster whether the Gators are playing like hellions or looking helpless.

That we is a team we can be proud of, and it's one that will leave Florida fans looking back on it relatively fondly. But these Gators are good to very good, and not great, and that will give those fond remembrances the tinge of unfulfilled promises.

These Gators aren't necessarily what we wanted them to be. They just are who they are, a team of excellent pieces that don't fit together well enough to end a game on their less than 15 points back of the best team in the country.

There are worse things to be.

Next up the Gators take on the winner of Alabama Vs. South Carolina in the quarterfinals of the 2012 SEC Tournament.