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Let’s hope America changed the channel early in Florida’s loss against No. 1 Baylor

After a promising start in the nationally televised prime time game, the Gators were blown out at the end of the first half and never recovered.
As Florida forward Keyontae Johnson helps defend, forward Kerry Blackshear steals the ball from Baylor guard Matthew Mayer during the first half, when the No. 1-ranked Bears took a 40-29 lead in Gainesville. [MATT STAMEY  |  AP]
As Florida forward Keyontae Johnson helps defend, forward Kerry Blackshear steals the ball from Baylor guard Matthew Mayer during the first half, when the No. 1-ranked Bears took a 40-29 lead in Gainesville. [MATT STAMEY | AP]
Published Jan. 26

GAINESVILLE — Defense was the first to go. Then the shooting touch. And by halftime, former Florida football coach Steve Spurrier had left too.

In a college basketball season filled with upsets, Florida’s chance to join the party disappeared quickly in a 72-61 loss to No. 1 Baylor Saturday night in a game that wasn’t really that close.

At least the evening got off to a good start. The O’Connell Center was packed, and Spurrier was sitting courtside. ESPN brought Dick Vitale along with a prime time television audience. Turns out, the only thing missing was any semblance of drama.

The Gators did charge out to a 17-9 lead in the first seven minutes, but it was pretty much downhill after that. Baylor went on a 31-12 run to finish the first half, and the rest of the game felt like a long-winded attempt to avoid embarrassment.

Florida’s backcourt was a complete non-factor in the first half, which allowed Baylor to devote its attention to stopping Gator forward Kerry Blackshear, who was held to nine points and four rebounds. He came in averaging 14.8 points and 8.7 boards.

And so, once the Bears started penetrating Florida’s defense, the rout was on. Florida’s shooters then went cold and little else went right.

The Gators trailed by double figures nearly the entire second half. They got out-rebounded by 37-26, and shot 4-of-17 from three-point range.

One week after upsetting No. 4 Auburn, and four days after taking LSU to the final seconds in Baton Rouge, the Gators appeared to take a major step backward on Saturday.

It’s not like Florida fans didn’t know what to expect. This was the 14th time in school history the Gators have faced the No. 1 team during the regular season, and they have fallen short — double checking the record books — yup, 14 times.

UF does have two victories against the AP No. 1 in NCAA tournament appearances. (Duke in 2000, and Ohio State in the national title game in 2007.)

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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