After trailing by as many as 18 points in the second half in Baton Rouge, Florida decided — finally — to play hard, good basketball for about 15 minutes of the game clock. What the Gators did in the final 13:18 of play was rather impressive: They scored 51 points, and whittled LSU's lead to as few as two points.
But the Gators never erased that lead, and so they lost 96-91 — and so they stand with their feet precariously pressed against the flimsy film of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
John Egbunu led the Gators with a career-high 22 points, Kasey Hill added 16 off the bench, and Devin Robinson (15 points) and Dorian Finney-Smith (14 points) contributed jumpers. But offense wasn't the Gators' issue on this night, when they scored their most points in an SEC road game since 2012.
No, the problem was defensive indifference, more or less: Ben Simmons had 22 points and 11 rebounds, but his five assists seemingly all came on passes whipped to shooters for threes, and Antonio Blakeney had 32 points to lead all scorers. All five LSU starters scored in double figures, the Tigers hit 44 percent of their threes, and only relatively iffy foul shooting prevented LSU from hitting the century mark.
And that's the most troubling trend of a series of them that have left Florida on a skid in recent weeks. The Gators are losers of their last three, and four of their last five; they went 3-5 in February, and never had consecutive wins in the month.
This loss hurts most, too. While it's hard to say this was a game the Gators had to have without qualifications — with a home contest with Kentucky up next, Florida can undo much of the damage done on this night — it is one the Gators needed to have to survive any more losses in the regular season. LSU is unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament, and is the lowest-RPI team the Gators succumbed to this month.
Projections that had the Gators set to make the NCAA Tournament at the beginning of the week — and the weekend — are going to be far less kind to them come Sunday and Monday.
And if they can't stop their slide on Tuesday, Florida may need to win the SEC Tournament to return to March Madness.