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No. 8 Florida falls to 0-4 in close games this season

Feb 26, 2013, 11:54 PM EDT

Erik Murphy

Florida went into Tuesday night’s game at Tennessee with just six healthy rotation players, a Will Yeguete is battling a knee injury and Michael Frazier out with a concussion.

They left with just five, as Casey Prather took a shot to the head that looked like it left him woozy and opened up a faucet of a cut over his left eye.

And Tennessee — a physical, veteran team that always plays well against Florida and is currently playing their best basketball of the season — came in desperate, playing for their NCAA tournament lives.

All of that played a significant role in Tennessee’s 64-58 win over No. 8 Florida, as did Jordan McRae’s performance — 27 points, seven boards, four assists, two steals and two blocks — and Jarnell Stokes’ physicality — 14 boards.

But all of that also belabors a larger point: Florida is still winless in close games.

Florida has played four close games this season, all of which came on the road, and lost all four of them.

– They blew a six-point lead in the final minutes at Arizona, losing 65-64.

– They lost a 67-61 dogfight to Kansas State in Kansas City two games later.

– They lost at Missouri last Tuesday, 63-60, after blowing a 13-point second half lead.

– And they lost at Tennessee on Tuesday, in a game where Florida’s execution down the stretch left much to be desired.

Should I mention the 11 point lead that Florida blew against Louisville in the Elite 8 last year?

That’s a trend. A problematic one, at that. And now it’s essentially cost the Gators a shot at getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

At this point, it’s fair for us to start asking whether or not this Florida team is truly a national title contender, isn’t it? Unless you consider beating Missouri (without Laurence Bowers), Ole Miss or Kentucky (in the game that Nerlens Noel got injured) in Gainesville a quality win, the Gators have really done nothing of note since beating Marquette by 33 points (again, in Gainesville) back in late November.

Florida fattened up on mediocre SEC opponents, but do they know how to compete and win in close games against quality competition?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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