In a closed-door session with his team Saturday, Florida coach Billy Donovan dared to use the three letters that brings shivers down every college basketball player's back after a 75-70 loss to Tennessee.
"It's an eye-opener,'' said Gators guard Kenny Boynton, who tied Bradley Beal with a team-high 16 points, but neither shot very well from the field. "But it can only be one way. We've got to wake up and play or we could be in the NIT.''
Well, actually, Donovan confessed he was only using the Gators' 2008 and 2009 teams as an example what can happen when you don't finish a season strong. UF had consecutive NIT years after winning national titles the previous two seasons.
Florida (19-6, 7-3 SEC) will definitely tumble pretty far in the polls after starting the week as a top-10 team — especially by following up a 78-58 loss at Kentucky with Saturday's home blowout defeat that marked the first time in two years the Gators have lost back-to-back games.
"For the last couple of weeks I have not been pleased,'' Donovan said. "I don't know if it's focus or what it is, but I thought the difference in the game for me today was pretty simple. Tennessee has a lot of veteran guys, a lot of experience and a lot of talent. but a lot of these guys on their team were backup guys last year, and I think their team has hardened going through last year (the firing of Bruce Pearl amid NCAA problems), Our guys are not hardened enough right now.''
Beal said there were signs of problems coming in recent days because of the way the team had been practicing. Donovan became so irritated on Monday that he threw the team out of the gym.
"We didn't compete at all, really,'' Beal said. "Our defensive principles were bad again. We really weren't focused and weren't getting on offense at all, just jacking up shots. We weren't focused mentally throughout the whole game. It started in practice a couple of days ago and really showed today.''
It was never much of a game.
Tennessee (13-12, 5-5) has won three consecutive games and five of its last seven, but came to Gainesville with an 0-7 road record this season. Trae Golden had 17 points to pace the Vols, who totaled 36 points in the paint and had a 35-28 rebounding advantage that was much worse until garbage time near the end of the contest.
"It was a good feeling,'' first-year Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "My approach to road games is always the same. I told the guys in shoot-around this morning that today I felt like it was the first time we were able to win a road game. We had the necessary pieces and the necessary mindset to win the game. Before, we weren't mentally ready.''
Florida also saw a 19-game home winning streak, including 13-0 this season, end as it played poorly during a stretch of more than three minutes midway through the first half that pretty well spelled the Gators' doom as Tennessee went on a 15-2 run.
TENNESSEE 75, NO. 8 FLORIDA 70
Up next: Florida at Alabama, Tuesday, 7 p.m. TV: ESPN