By Edgar Thompson | Orlando Sentinel
7:18 PM PST, February 5, 2013
For the past few weeks, Gators coach Billy Donovan has told everyone his team and its season had a long, long way to go.
But given the roll the No. 2 Gators were on, no one really listened, maybe not even his players based on Tuesday night's no-show at Arkansas.
Coming off 10 straight convincing wins, Florida came out flat and wilted in the face of the Razorbacks' unrelenting intensity and uncanny shotmaking during an 80-69 loss.
The final score did not do Arkansas' victory justice. The unranked Razorbacks ran the Gators off the court in the game's first 10 minutes and never let up, despite a meaningless run late in the game by Florida.
Entering the game, Florida's largest deficit all season was 11 points during a 67-61 loss on Dec. 22 at Kansas State. The Razorbacks hit 15 of their first 20 shots and rattled Florida with their defensive effort to build a 23-point lead - at 36-13 - with 9:23 left in the first half.
Six days earlier, the Gators held South Carolina to 36 points for an entire game.
Before Tuesday's loss, Florida (18-3, 8-1 SEC) had won its SEC games by an average of 26.5 points, but trailed Arkansas (14-8, 5-4) by as many as 27 points. The Razborbacks led the Gators by 20 points or more 6 1/2 minutes of the second half.
The loss suddenly raises questions about a Gators' team that looked invincible, especially in a surprisingly weak SEC. The conference is 2-13 in games against teams ranked in the top 25.
Arkansas had been good at home, losing only to Syracuse in 13 games in Bud Walton Arena. But the Razorbacks were 0-7 on the road and looked to be no match for Florida, the only team in the nation entering Tuesday to be ranked in the top five in offensive and defensive efficiency.
Instead, the Gators looked lost on both ends of the floor.
Florida finished with an SEC season-low in field-goal percentage (41.1 percent) and had more turnovers (16) than assists (15) for the first time in nine conference games.
Senior forward Erik Murphy was 1 of 6 from 3-point range after he had hit 17 of 24 from beyond the arc in his previous five games. Junior center Patric Young followed his first career double-double in SEC play with nine points, four rebounds and five fouls - his first disqualification since the Kansas State.
Freshman Michael Frazier, who had nine points and nine rebounds off the bench, was the lone bright spot for Florida.
Tuesday night's performance resembled Florida's loss at Kansas State in many ways.
Coming off their first loss of the season, a one-point defeat at Arizona, the Gators came out flat and never reccoverd at K-State. The loss dimmed the enthusiasm about Donovan's team, which began the season 7-0 and reached No. 5 in the polls.
But the Gators responded to that loss with a 10-game winning streak that left Florida No. 2 in the polls, No. 3 in the RPI and as the top seed in the NCAA Tournament projections of ESPN's Joe Lunardi.
On Monday, Donovan downplayed all those things as meaningless. Turns out he was right.
With a visit from Kentucky next Tuesday night in Gainesville, Donovan has Saturday's visit from Mississippi State and several practices to make sure his players get the message.
If the Gators regroup and resemble the team of the past month, the Razorbacks will have done Donovan a favor.
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