Following LSU AD Joe Alleva’s refusal to play the 2016 football game against Florida in Gainesville as scheduled, the Gator athletic program has unequivocally dominated his school across the board. The Gators own two subsequent upsets over the Tigers on the gridiron, a 7-0 drubbing at the Women’s College World Series, a two game sweep in the College World Series Finals and a pair of basketball wins by a combined 44 points.
And now, with their backs against the wall, the Gators also own a third basketball victory over LSU since then in the form of a monumental upset that might save their season, and possibly even their coach’s job.
KeVaughn Allen led the way with 21 points, Jalen Hudson added fifteen more and the Gators held off a last ditch rally to hand LSU its 18th loss in the last 27 meetings with Florida, by an 82-77 score in overtime. The road win over the thirteenth ranked Tigers freezes the proverbial temperature beneath Mike White’s seat for the foreseeable future and all but rounds out Florida’s tournament resume, given how particularly soft this year’s so-called “bubble” is. And all of a sudden, the thinking can now shift from whether or not this Gator team will make the NCAA tournament- a top 30 KenPom rating and quality wins over Alabama, Mississippi, Butler and LSU should overwrite the eleven losses they’ve suffered so far barring a complete collapse that yields several more down the stretch- to how many games it can win in it.
Because for the full forty-five minutes, Florida looked like a team capable of advancing beyond the opening round.
The Gators opened the game on an 8-2 run, certainly an early foreshadowing of what might be coming, and then held on for the overwhelming majority of regulation. Hudson, who has been by and large disappointing this season, inflicted the bulk of his damage late in the first half during a period where both offenses had gone cold, scoring nine points in a two minute span. And more than once, the Gators caught LSU snoozing on inbounds plays beneath the Tigers’ baskets for easy alley-oops.
But the real hero of the game was Allen. Florida appeared to be in some trouble late, trailing 60-57 following a Naz Reid three with under four minutes to go and seemingly in the midst of one of its trademark cold streaks. Noah Locke then replied by drawing the Gators within one on a layup, and Allen put Florida back on top with a sensational three from two feet behind the line. The Tigers looked to have the possession shut down, as Allen took the pass from Nembhard on the “L” of the midcourt wordmark, and took three slow dribbles before suddenly pulling up and knocking down a three.
That was just a mere warmup for the heroics he had in store, though. With the game tied at 64, both teams got a chance to score in the final seconds of regulation and failed, so the game went to overtime- where Allen took over.
First, Allen drained a jumper to put Florida up by one. A minute later, with the game tied, Locke hit a three to give the Gators a 70-67 advantage, but Tremont Waters answered for LSU. Allen then came right back and nailed a straightaway three, and followed that up on the Gators’ next possession by hitting another three, this one from the 45° angle around the arc to make it 76-70 with a minute to go.
Florida did give viewers a glimpse into its recent past by letting LSU back into it after building such a promising end-of-game situation for itself. Kevarrius Hayes fouled Skylar Mays on his ensuing layup to gift LSU a free point, and after everything that he’d done well, Allen turned the ball over with twenty seconds to go. But Waters’ game tying three attempt missed, and Locke put the game away with a pair of free throws.
We’ve seen the Gators’ various and crippling weaknesses throughout the year enough times that going into detail about them here serves no real purpose. I think anybody rationally discussing this team knows its limitations. With last two games, though, Florida has not only displayed its ceiling, but a real reason to bet on them in March.