Florida Gators Stunning Loss to Tennessee Leaves Billy Searching For Answers

The #8 Gators are looking for answers after their stunning upset to Tennessee.

It's one thing to get your head kicked in by the #1 team in the nation in their barn. It's another to blow your 19-game home winning streak to the likes of Tennessee (13-12, 5-5 in SEC). The Volunteers have inexplicably swept the Gators this season and sent Florida to their first back-to-back losses since the final two games of the 2009 season with a 75-70 win at the O-dome.

Don't let the score fool you. Florida was never really in this game as Tennessee looked like the only Division I basketball team on the floor, leading by as much as 17 before the Gators realized how embarrassing it might look to the NCAA selection committee to be blown out at home by the Vols.

This isn't meant as a disrespect to the Tennessee basketball program, who is in full rebuild mode and to their credit, outplayed Florida both times they faced them.

This is more about the Gators and their lack of effort. Head coach Billy Donovan told reporters after the game that he kicked his team off the basketball court twice during this week's practices for lack of effort.

While we infamously know what some players think about practice, there's an old sports adage that says you play how you practice. It certainly showed in this ballgame.

"There's a competitive hardness that happens to you," Donovan said, "Our guys are not hardened enough right now. We have not been hardened."

Moreover, the Gators have lacked the mental toughness that needs to be seen if this team wants to get far in the NCAA Tournament (if they qualify). After getting blasted by Kentucky on the road, a mentally tough team would have regrouped, refocused and dedicated themselves to righting the ship against an undermanned Tennessee squad.

The Vols seemed to be the perfect opponent for the Gators. A team that had upset them previously and frankly, wasn't very good. Even though they have won four of their last five, Tennessee hadn't won a conference road game this season.

This was where Florida was to shake off the ugly loss at Rupp and get some momentum heading down the stretch to the SEC tournament.

Instead, we're left with a Florida basketball team that's being questioned about heart and toughness. With four of the last six games on the road against opponents that are certainly better than Tennessee, the question begs to be asked if this Florida team is ready to play in the tournament or is headed for a classic fall.

Donovan met with his team for 30 minutes after the game.

"Where we're going we might be in the NIT if we don't just turn around right now," Florida guard Bradley Beal said. "If that didn't fit into our minds and really stick in our minds, then I don't know what's going to happen. We really have to turn around, and I think we'll do that."

They're going to need to. The NCAA selection committee doesn't look kindly on late season collapses.

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