Bloom is off for Florida, bullied at home by Loyola-Chicago
If you’re an SEC contender, the flavor-of-the-month Final Four pick, the team that might snatch Kentucky’s league crown, a crew that nearly knocked off Duke two weeks ago, you beat Loyola-Chicago on your home floor.
If you’re No. 5 Florida in Gainesville, and Loyola-Chicago enters the game without starting point guard Ben Richardson, who suffered a broken hand last month, you win that game and let the reserves earn some clock in the final 10 minutes because you’ve secured a comfortable lead.
But that’s not what happened to a Florida team that embarrassed itself Wednesday with a 65-59 home loss to a Loyola squad that was picked to finish third in the Missouri Valley Conference. But that projection preceded Richardson’s injury.
Without him, the Ramblers are a middle-of-the-pack program in a mid-major league. A good mid-major league, but still a mid-major league.
Loyola (9-1) didn’t need Richardson to alter the perception of Florida basketball in early December, though.
Florida's double-overtime tussle with Gonzaga at the PK80 tournament in Portland, Oregon, over Thanksgiving weekend is still the game of the season thus far.
In the title game, the Gators traded leads with top-ranked Duke in perhaps the runner-up game of the season.
But rival Florida State humbled Mike White’s squad Monday with an 83-66 victory.
Fine. It’s a rivalry game. Florida State is always athletic, long and aggressive. So perhaps Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles deserved more hype before that matchup. But top-five teams like Florida shouldn’t be having too much trouble with unranked opponents at home.
Then it all got worse.
On Wednesday, Loyola waltzed into the O’Connell Center, slapped the Gators in the face and left with a quality road win that voided Florida’s convincing victory over Gonzaga in Portland.
Save the excuses. Yes, the Gators continue to await the return of big man John Egbunu.
And they entered Wednesday’s game shooting 43 percent from the 3-point line, a top-15 mark, but finished 2-for-19 from beyond the arc.
The same team that scored 108 points in regulation against Stanford on Nov. 23 couldn’t crack 60 on Wednesday against a Loyola program that surrendered 87 points in a 34-point loss at Boise State last month.
When the 3-pointers stop falling, good teams find a way. Because they’re not limited to one tool or scheme.
But when Florida (5-3) couldn’t make any shots from beyond the arc against an overmatched -- on paper -- Ramblers squad, the Gators didn’t search for an alternative.
They just accepted the loss on their home floor, and any criticism -- all justified -- that will follow.
Two weeks ago, Florida seemed capable of winning the SEC and reaching the final weekend of the NCAA tournament.
After Wednesday, however, we should table those ideas.
Until those bruises heal and the Gators decide -- if they decide -- to fight again.