Florida was supposed to defeat Arkansas on Wednesday night. That much was given.
That might not cancel the disappointment of it happening, but it should lessen the blow after the Gators topped Arkansas, 78-65, to expunge Arkansas’ slim hopes of finishing in the top two in the SEC.
Florida (24-6, 14-3) never looked in trouble, not dissimilar to how it looked in the teams’ first meeting in December in Fayetteville. The Gators shot 57 percent in the first half, including 50 percent from 3-point range, and built a lead as many as 16 points in the opening 20 minutes.
Arkansas (22-8, 11-6), accustomed to being forced to make second-half rallies, didn’t have one.
The closest the Razorbacks came was 9. The Gators scored 38 points in the paint, constantly attacking the rim, seldom from post-up plays. An inability to get stops meant Arkansas couldn’t do what it wanted offensively, either: get out and run. The Razorbacks had 4 fast-break points.
Mike Anderson’s team was forced to take too many jumpers, leading to its 36 percent shooting. Things were compounded by several misses from close range.
The Razorbacks closed to a single-digit deficit with about 14:30 to play. Jaylen Barford led it, scoring 6 of the team’s first 7 points after halftime and grabbing 4 rebounds in the first handful of minutes as well. When he was able to push things on the break, good things happened.
But every time Arkansas crept within 2 or 3 possessions, Florida seemingly had an answer. Dusty Hannahs’ 3 was answered with a Kasey Hill layup. Moses Kingsley’s turnaround jumper was retaliated with a Canyon Barry free throw and Hill bucket.
The loss snapped the Razorbacks’ 5-game winning streak and was the team’s third loss on the road this season in the SEC. They still can finish as high as third in the SEC, depending on the outcome of their final game and South Carolina’s. At worst, Arkansas will finish fourth in the league and have a double bye in the SEC Tournament next week.
Arkansas entered the game as an 8, 9 or 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament, according to various projections. A loss to the No. 5 RPI team in the nation shouldn’t change that much.
When the Razorbacks pulled within 6, it was 51-45 with 9:45 left. Florida responded with an 8-0 run. The final 7 minutes were spent with the visitors hovering from 7 to 12 down.
Keith Stone had 4 of those points in the Gators’ run. Then, when Arkansas came within 8 at the 6:16 mark, Stone buried a 3-pointer to keep things from becoming too close for Florida.
Stat line of the game
Two things: shooting and bench points.
Anderson is huge on the latter, and his reserves didn’t show out against Florida. The Gators reserves outscored the Razorbacks bench players 36-12 on Wednesday.
Florida shot 51 percent, and Arkansas was at 36 percent.
What’s next for Arkansas?
Saturday, March 4
The Bulldogs will play for their NCAA Tournament lives. A Georgia win probably would send the Bulldogs to the Big Dance. A defeat would hurt Georgia’s hopes. A loss for the Razorbacks also might lead to some worrisome times ahead of the SEC Tournament next week.