Finally, after two frustrating defeats at the hands of the 2014 NCAA Tournament champions in the best year in program history, Florida had UConn right where it wanted the Huskies: Down 11, with just over 10 minutes to play, after a Dorian Finney-Smith three.
And then it slipped away from these Gators, just as it has again and again this season.
UConn finished the game on a 22-7 run — part of a larger 32-15 stretch that covered most of the second half — and finished off the Gators at the free throw line for a 63-59 victory in a battle between NCAA Tournament bubble-bound teams.
For Florida, the same old issues were lethal again. The Gators got very little inside, with Chris Walker and Jon Horford combining to score just eight points and UConn titan Amida Brimah swatting two shots and changing countless others. They made eight of 20 free throws, and missed four in the final minute, including two from Alex Murphy that could have tied the game. They struggled from the field, making just 21 of 50 shots, and in the halfcourt, where they bogged down time and again.
The Gators were who they are, for better and — mostly — for worse, and UConn took advantage. A hot shooting night from Rodney Purvis, who made three triples on the 13-1 run that earned the Huskies the lead for good, was all it really took to beat this team, which got 19 points from Finney-Smith and no more than eight from any other player. Florida did a fine job on star guard Ryan Boatright, limiting him to just 2-of-11 shooting, but Boatright drew several fouls — some to howls of protest from the O'Connell Center crowd — and chipped in eight of his 14 points from the line, part of UConn's stellar 17-for-20 showing from the stripe.
Florida should steal the Steve Nash drill that UConn has implemented to ingrain good habits in its free throw shooters, and it should shoot more jumpers in hopes that that may help some of them go down, and it should practice driving and kicking so that rim protectors like Brimah can't disrupt drives late in the shot clock, and it should, in my opinion, try to get better at basketball in a variety of other different ways.
But, at this point, I'm not sure that the Gators can improve all that much.
Florida came into this day at 7-5, and in desperate need of a quality win that could help its NCAA Tournament stock come March, and it leaves this day 7-6, and without a better win in non-conference play than a demolition of a Yale team that is unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament.
Desperation has given way to despair.