GAINESVILLE — Don't for one second let the final score deceive you about Saturday's game between Florida and Tennessee at the O'Connell Center.
Unranked Tennessee defeated the No. 8 Gators 75-70, but the beating was much worse overall, much more telling about this Gators team right now.
"The difference in the game to me was simple: Our guys are not hardened enough right now," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I don't know if it's (a team) at a crossroads as much as it is a, 'Who are we, and who do we want to be' kind of thing."
Tennessee (13-12, 5-5 SEC) went in 0-7 on the road and left with a season sweep of the Gators. It was the first time in two years that Florida (19-6, 7-3) has suffered back-to-back losses (including Tuesday night's 20-point loss to Kentucky), and its 19-game home win streak ended.
"I told the guys in shootaround (Saturday) morning that today I felt like it was the first time we were able to win a road game," Vols first-year coach Cuonzo Martin said.
The Gators trailed 41-30 at halftime after Tennessee led by as many as 17. Florida shot 42 percent from the field (36 percent on 3s) and was outscored in the paint 36-14. The Gators hit five 3-pointers in the final 1:54 to make the score seem respectable.
Florida's troubles were compounded by the loss of defensive specialist Will Yeguete, who was knocked unconscious six minutes into the game when his head collided on the baseboard. He received 8-10 stitches and was diagnosed with a concussion. UF's other top reserve, guard Mike Rosario, missed the game with a hip pointer. And center Patric Young and junior forward Erik Murphy had two fouls midway through the half, cutting into the Gators' depth.
Oddly enough, Florida saw this one coming. After a 30-minute postgame with Donovan, the Gators emerged from the locker room and acknowledged they were dismissed from practice twice last week for lack of focus and intensity.
"We didn't compete at all really," said freshman guard Bradley Beal, who had 16 points and eight rebounds but shot 2-of-9 from the field.
In his postgame speech, Donovan reminded his team that there's still a lot of basketball to be played — and if they don't toughen up and focus, they might play themselves right out of an NCAA Tournament bid.
"It's an eye-opener," junior guard Kenny Boynton said. "But it can only be one way. We've got to wake up and play or we could be in the NIT."