Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Williams' Presence Was Missed

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Williams' Presence Was Missed

Article excerpt

GAINESVILLE -- They told themselves to regroup and move on.

They believed their coach when he said that the motivation of

taking the court against the University of Kentucky should

override any distractions. They relished the possibility of

shocking the Wildcats when the odds were overwhelmingly against

it.

But in no time at all, the worst fears of Florida's basketball

players were realized. Without Jason Williams, without the

engineer to drive the train, the Gators are a team totally off

the tracks.

What transpired at the O'Connell Center last night before

10,222 fans more than spelled the end of the Gators' run toward

an NCAA Tournament at-large berth. The 79-54,

never-really-in-the-game, blowout loss to Kentucky slammed home

a sobering message of how utterly helpless Florida is now that

Williams is out of the picture.

Twice this season, the Gators got a sneak preview of what life

minus their mercurial point guard would be like. They squeaked

by heavy underdog Nicholls State 66-63 in their season opener

with Williams serving a suspension, then lost by the same score

to inferior LSU at home last month with Williams under

suspension again.

As lackluster as those performances might have been, they

didn't drive a stake through the heart of the Gators the way

last night's debacle surely did. Just one day after Florida

learned that the troubled Williams -- its leading scorer, assist

man and on-court maestro -- had messed up for the last time and

was probably off the team for good, the Gators collectively laid

an egg.

How badly did they miss Williams? This bad: Florida turned the

ball over 22 times, including 18 in the first 29 minutes when

Kentucky built a commanding 61-32 lead. It went 6:33 in the

first half without a field goal. It went 4:23 in the second half

without a point. The 54-point total was the lowest in two

seasons under coach Billy Donovan.

"We wanted to wear Florida down because we figured they'd be a

little emotionally drained with what happened the last few

days," said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. …

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