GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida has developed a distinct pattern this season: big win, then big letdown.
It's already happened three times, with the Gators following victories against Florida State, Kansas State and Tennessee with surprising losses against Central Florida, Jacksonville and South Carolina.
Florida's up-and-down ways have been so mystifying that even coach Billy Donovan can't figure his team out. He has a theory, though. His players simply haven't handled success very well.
The No. 24 Gators (15-4, 4-1 Southeastern Conference), ranked again after winning seven of their last eight games, have a chance to buck the trend Tuesday night at Georgia (14-4, 3-2).
Donovan won't be holding his breath.
"When you have some success and something good happens to you, it is a human element to think, 'OK, I've finally got it solved. I know what I need to do,'" Donovan said. "It's a different mental approach. If I could get into every one of these guy's head and know what goes through their mind, I could probably be more help. But there's a human element that it's normal and natural after a big win to come back and have a letdown."
The Gators could be a case study this season.
Not only have they lost three times following significant wins, they haven't even played well in those games.
Florida came out flat against UCF in early December, looked downright lost at home against Jacksonville three weeks later and gave an even more lackluster performance against the Gamecocks at the O'Connell Center 10 days ago.
Donovan demanded more from his team after the latest loss.
"From here on out, guys are going to play to the level he wants us to play, and if not, then he's going to do things about it," center Vernon Macklin said. "We have to have more intensity in practice."
So far, the Gators have responded fairly well. Sure, they only scored 45 points in a five-point win at Auburn last week. But Florida's defense was solid throughout the game and several key shots fell down the stretch.
The Gators put together their most complete game against Arkansas on Saturday, a 32-point win in which they dominated from the opening tip.
But how will they respond against the Bulldogs?
If recent history is any indication, Florida fans might not want to watch the nationally televised game.
"It's tough to explain," senior forward Chandler Parsons said. "We just need to focus on coming out every night with energy and passion and fire and playing the game, no matter who we're playing against, no matter what it says on their jersey."
The next four games could determine whether Florida will stay in the rankings and start making a strong case for a high seed in the NCAA tournament. The Gators have the 10th-toughest strength of schedule in the country and are ranked No. 19 in the latest Rating Percentage Index.
"The thing you want to see is if, at this point in time in the season, as you move toward the end of January, can your team build off of the next game, the next game, the next game?" Donovan said. "Some play really, really well and have a great game and can't handle coming back the next day and realizing that it's a new day. Just because they played well yesterday has no bearing on today.
"There's a competitive spirit, there's a competitive maturity that you've got to have where you fight through those difficult parts."
The Gators haven't quite figured that out, evidenced by the roller-coaster results.
"It hurts us some times," forward Patric Young said. "Sometimes we come out like we did against Arkansas and sometimes we come out like we were against Jacksonville. I think we've put an end to that and we can come out like we did against Arkansas for the rest of the year."