Florida made its stab at upsetting No. 1 Tennessee on Rocky Top on Saturday.
The Gators started strong, made a run to get within six points at halftime, trailed by four early in the second half, and ripped off a lightning bolt of a 7-0 run when the game was slipping away midway through the second stanza.
It wasn’t enough to beat one of the best teams in the country, which got brilliant shooting from the field and kept Florida mostly frigid in a 73-61 win.
The Gators got 17 points from Noah Locke and a surprising 15 points from Jalen Hudson off the bench, but had no other player score more than KeVaughn Allen’s 11 — and even those had to come in unusually limited minutes, as he was one of several players dealing with foul trouble in a tightly-officiated game that featured a combined 35 fouls.
Keyontae Johnson, too, dealt with foul trouble, earning an early ticket on the bench in the first half thanks to two fouls. And Florida struggled for a long while with him out, making just one shot over a span of 9:39 in the first half and allowing the Vols to lurch out to a double-digit advantage that ballooned to 32-16 with under five minutes to go in the first period.
But Allen got hot and helped shoot Florida to a 14-4 run into halftime, and Florida went toe-to-toe with the Vols early in the second half when Allen was in, with Johnson and Andrew Nembhard hitting from close range to shave the Tennessee lead down to just four points early on.
It wouldn’t last.
Tennessee slowly rebuilt its edge as Florida’s shots failed to fall, and though the Gators sliced a 14-point lead in half with a 7-0 spurt covering under a minute and a half, the Vols — who got a combined 30 points from Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams — ultimately proved to be too much for a team that shot 36 percent from the field and just 31 percent from three to hang with. (Florida did, to its credit, nab many of its misses, pulling down 16 offensive rebounds on the day.)
And so Florida finishes a two-week span of four consecutive games against likely NCAA Tournament participants — and a two-Saturday span of facing potential No. 1 seeds — with just a 1-3 record and more questions than answers. The Gators still have faint NCAA Tournament hopes, and will very clearly not see a tougher stretch of opponents than they just did this year — barring a deep and deeply unlikely NCAA Tournament run, anyway.
But while there are reasons for faith and hope in this team, the reasons that this team may not achieve great things are all there to see, too.