The moment the shot went in and the buzzer went off, Billy Donovan knew his team was about to face a defining moment in its season.
With a seven-point lead and less than three minutes remaining in Wednesday's game at South Carolina, the Gators faded down the stretch.
Sophomore F Chandler Parsons missed a free throw with 3.3 seconds remaining, then the Gators failed to defend the other end as South Carolina converted on an uncontested layup at the buzzer to win the game.
"There are experiences during the course of the year that can really do two things," Donovan said. "The experience can really bring your team together, or it can really divide your team. And that's what conference play is all about: handling adversity. And adversity comes in many different forms: It comes through winning, and it comes through losing. And how you handle that matters: does it bring you together or tear you apart?"
What Donovan is hoping, based on the Gators' 94-69 win over Vanderbilt on Sunday afternoon, is that they will grow stronger from the South Carolina experience.
Florida (17-3, 4-1 SEC) hosts Georgia (9-10, 0-4) Wednesday night having won 11 of its past 12 games and with the confidence that comes from having bounced back strong from a game that admittedly would have crushed it last season.
Parsons, who spent the immediate days after the South Carolina loss putting in extra work in the gym, hit seven 3-pointers and had a career-high 27 points. When the Gators returned from Nashville on Sunday night, Parsons headed for a workout — putting up 200 to 300 free throws in his spare time.
"It's a process, and you have to go through it each day," Parsons said. "After that experience, you have to understand how valuable everything is and how hard you have to work to play good. I'm coming in working hard and trying to stay focused."
LOCKE OUT: The Gator baseball career of Tampa pitcher Stephen Locke has come to an abrupt end. Florida officials said Monday that Locke is no longer with the team after his arrest early Saturday on charges of DUI. Locke was released on his own recognizance and ordered not to drink or drive until at least his next, yet-to-be scheduled court date.
He had 12 starts for the Gators last season, second on the team. He was 5-2 with a 3.17 ERA in a career-high 21 appearances. He struck out 46 batters and allowed just 13 walks in 821/3 innings. He had the Gators' lowest ERA in SEC play (2.91).
RIDING HIGH: The Florida women (18-2, 4-1) are gaining a growing legion of fans as they continue their winning ways. Sunday's 75-54 victory over Ole Miss was the Gators' 12th straight at home and came in front of 4,623 at the O'Dome. Florida hasn't started the conference season 4-1 since the 2000-01 season.
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.