Gators back on the NCAA bubble

ATHENS, Ga. -- After fighting back from a 15-point deficit in the second half at Georgia on Saturday, the Florida Gators had the basketball and a chance to tie the score or take the lead.

And with Florida fighting for its NCAA tournament lives, none of its players apparently wanted to take the last shot.

Or at least the guy with the basketball in his hands in the final seconds didn't want to shoot.

With the Bulldogs leading 78-76 in the final moments, Georgia double-teamed forward Chandler Parsons, forcing him to pass to teammate Dan Werner just inside the 3-point line. Instead of taking a wide-open jumper, Werner tried to pass the basketball to Vernon Macklin, who was alone under the basket. But Georgia's Albert Jackson knocked Werner's pass into the stands, leaving only one-tenth of a second on the clock and all but ending the game.

"No one play decides a game," said Parsons, who finished with 29 points on 10-for-16 shooting, along with six rebounds, six assists and three steals. "I'm sure when Dan looks at it on film, he would have taken the shot. He was just being unselfish, like he always is."

Said Florida coach Billy Donovan: "I think Dan threw the ball because he felt Vernon could get a dunk."

Instead of strengthening its case for an NCAA at-large bid, Florida put itself right back on the bubble by losing to the Bulldogs. To feel remotely confident on Selection Sunday on March 14, the Gators probably now need to win at least one of their last two-regular season games: home against No. 20 Vanderbilt on Tuesday night and at No. 2 Kentucky on March 7. Winning a game or two in next month's SEC tournament in Nashville wouldn't hurt their chances, either.

"Every game is crucial," Parsons said. "We've got to put this one behind us and concentrate on Tuesday night, which is the most important game of the year."

Werner passed up a shot that might have ended Florida's two-year drought from the NCAA tournament. After winning back-to-back national championships in 2006 and '07, the Gators haven't been back to college basketball's biggest stage since. They were left out of the NCAA tournament in each of the past two seasons because they lost games like Saturday's.

"It's very frustrating," Parsons said. "With everything on the line, it's disappointing to come out here and play the way we did today. It feels like we let one slip away, and you can't have that late in the season."

A team like Florida especially can't let a game like this get away after it accomplished so much only four nights before. On Tuesday night, Florida upset No. 17 Tennessee, 75-62, at Stephen C. O'Connell Center. A victory over a team like the Volunteers was exactly what the Gators needed to go along with early-season wins over Michigan State and Florida State. Since beating the Spartans, 77-74, at the Legends Classic in Atlantic City, N.J., on Nov. 27, the Gators really hadn't beaten a team that mattered until upsetting the Vols.

That's one of the the hazards of playing in the SEC this season: Teams don't have many chances to impress the NCAA selection committee. And with an RPI rating of No. 45 and 3-6 record against RPI top-50 foes heading into Saturday's game, Florida needs to pad its overall body of work as much as possible between now and season's end.

In the Gators' defense, the Bulldogs have played much better than expected in coach Mark Fox's first season. Georgia upset nationally ranked opponents like Georgia Tech, Tennessee and Vanderbilt at home. Sophomore forward Trey Thompkins is one of the country's more underrated players, averaging better than 17 points and 8 rebounds per game.

Still, with so much riding on the game's outcome, the Gators are supposed to be able to beat teams like Georgia. The Bulldogs lost 96-94 in overtime at Vanderbilt only two nights ago. Georgia's legs were supposed to be tired and their spirits dashed.

Florida's legs were supposed to be rested and their confidence was supposed to be building.

But in the end, it was the Gators who couldn't muster the courage to take a shot at the end.

"I think everybody is always quick to put the focus on the NCAA bubble and who's in and who's out," Donovan said. "Whether it's TV or ESPN, everybody always wants to focus on that, which is good for college basketball because it draws attention to it. But I've told my players to focus on the process and not focus on the results.

"I love our team," Donovan said. "These guys won nine of 11 SEC games before today. It's simple: If you win enough games, you get in."