GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — No. 5 Florida followed a performance coach Mike White called “the epitome of soft” with an even bigger flop.
Aundre Jackson scored 23 points, Cameron Krutwig added 14 and Loyola-Chicago stunned the Gators 63-59 on Wednesday night, handing them a third consecutive loss.
Florida hasn’t been the same since blowing a 17-point lead in the second half against top-ranked Duke on Nov. 26. The tailspin continued against rival Florida State on Monday and reached a new low against Loyola-Chicago.
“I can’t put a word on it. It’s pretty embarrassing,” guard Jalen Hudson said. “It’s so embarrassing.”
Another reality check could be ahead. The Gators (5-3) could fall out of The Associated Press Top 25, especially if they lose to 17th-ranked Cincinnati in New Jersey on Saturday. Arizona went from No. 2 to unranked earlier this season.
Florida trailed by as many as 13 in the first half, but had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds. KeVaughn Allen missed a driving layup, and Kevarrius Hayes’ ensuing tip-in was waved off because officials ruled the ball was on the rim when he touched it.
Cameron Satterwhite closed it out with two free throws on the other end.
“It’s huge for us,” Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser said. “We’re just trying to turn the culture of the program. It’s huge for us because of Florida’s program. They’ve been to Final Fours. They were in the Elite Eight last year. They’re fifth in the country.
“I’m not going to undersell the importance. It was a really good win for us and I’m really proud of our guys. … Obviously, when you win a game like this, it’s a good spotlight on you. But you want that spotlight to burn even more inside as we prepare and get better as the season goes on.”
The Gators shot 36.9 percent from the field, missed 17 of 19 3-point attempts and finished with seven assists.
The Ramblers (9-1) were much more efficient, shooting 52 percent from the field and making half their 12 shots from behind the arc.
White tweaked several aspects of Florida’s approach: Deaundrae Ballard and Keith Stone replaced Hudson and Allen in the starting lineup, and the Gators pressed more than usual. Allen had started 68 consecutive games.
But nothing White did fixed Florida’s shooting woes or the team’s defensive deficiencies.
Allen was 3-of-11 shooting, including 1 of 5 from 3-point range. Hudson was 3 of 11 from the field and 0 of 5 from behind the arc. Egor Koulechov was 3 of 13, including 0 for 3 on treys. Chris Chiozza was 3 of 7 from the field, had a team-high nine points and finished with four assists.
No Florida player reached double digits in scoring.
The Gators also led just 93 seconds.
“This is the lowest we can get,” Hudson said. “I don’t think we can get any lower than this. I’m sure we’re out of the rankings; none of that even matters. But we’re as low as we can get. We’ve got to completely change everything we’re doing and go back to the basics. … We’ve got to have a change of heart, a change of everything. It’s not working.”
Loyola-Chicago: The Ramblers have to feel good. They enjoyed their best start through nine games since the 1965-66 season and led Florida for most of the night. Moses has an experienced squad that’s playing without senior guard Ben Richardson (broken hand).
Florida: Since leading top-ranked Duke by 17 points with 10 minutes to play in a championship game of the PK80, the Gators haven’t been the same. Between Duke’s comeback and lackluster losses to Florida State and Loyola-Chicago, Florida has been outscored by a whopping 44 points in a 90-minute span. The stretch raised questions about the team’s ranking and potential.
Loyola-Chicago: Hosts Norfolk State on Saturday.
Florida: Plays No. 17 Cincinnati on Saturday in Newark, New Jersey.
Photo credit – Ron Irby / Associated Press / Gainesville, FL