Florida had a chance in its final non-conference game of the season to change its recent perception as February fade artists.
Xavier's bigger, more physical front line had other ideas.
Behind a dominant performance on the glass and in the paint, Xavier turned the O'Connell Center into its own house of horrors. The Musketeers took Florida to the woodshed, winning 76-64 and delivering another blow to UF's NCAA Tournament hopes.
Florida is now 2-2 in February. With games coming up at Ole Miss, at Georgia and at home against Tennessee, a losing month isn't out of the question.
"It hurts," said Florida junior Chandler Parsons, who led four Florida players in double figures with 15 points. "From your guys' eyes, you might be seeing the same things, but we are a much better team. We work harder and are more together. We just have to go out and prove it on the court."
Xavier (17-7) out-rebounded Florida 44-36, grabbed 19 offensive rebounds and scored 42 points in the paint.
"They just killed us on the glass and in the paint," Parsons said.
All Xavier needed was Love, or in other words, 6-foot-10, 265-pound, space-eating center Jason Love. He had 20 points and 10 rebounds, turning the paint into his own personal playground.
"I just wanted to step up today and help lead this team to a road win that we really needed," Love said
Afterward, Florida coach Billy Donovan provided a mea culpa, blaming his team's problems on lack of depth because of recruiting, injuries and the early departures of Nick Calathes and Marreese Speights.
"I think our guys are about the right things," Donovan said.
In a game critical to Florida's postseason hopes, the Gators had another awful day from the free-throw line, going 12 for 23. Florida has missed 24 free throws over the last two games.
Still, Florida rallied from a 16-point, first-half deficit to take a 52-50 lead when sophomore guard Ray Shipman made one of two free throws with 10:46 left. But the Gators managed to score just 12 points over the final 10 minutes.
"Early in the game, I thought, our guys had to get adjusted to how fast they were and how physical they were," Donovan said. "Overall, their team speed, athleticism and strength were far better than ours and certainly was a factor in the game."
Xavier took the lead for good 54-52 on a short jumper from 7-foot center Kenny Frease. Then, off a turnover from Florida point guard Erving Walker, Xavier guard Dante Jackson made a big 3-pointer from the corner to extend the lead to 57-52.
Parsons hit a 3-pointer to cut Xavier's lead to 62-59. Florida had a chance to tie, but freshman Kenny Boynton missed a 3-point attempt with 3:11 left. Off a long rebound, Love found sophomore guard Jordan Crawford in transition. Crawford converted a three-point play when he was fouled by center Vernon Macklin on a driving layup to extend the lead back to 65-59.
In its next three possessions, Florida missed two more 3-point attempts and an inside layup attempt from junior forward Alex Tyus. Xavier took advantage, building its lead to 70-59 with 1:08 left.
Crawford added 18 points for Xavier. Macklin recorded his first career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Boynton had 12 points and Walker had 11 points and eight assists off the bench. Walker didn't start because he was late for a pregame team meeting, but still wound up playing 32 minutes.
It was an off night for Tyus, who had just nine points on four of 13 shooting.
"When we don't get scoring at a good clip from Erving, Kenny Boynton or Alex, it puts an enormous amount of pressure on our defense," Donovan said.
Florida came out with a surprising lack of energy and focus early. The Gators fell behind 38-22, with Xavier shredding UF's press and beating them down the court with regularity.
"It's disappointing," Parsons said. "We just didn't follow the scouting report as well as we could have. We could have done a better job stopping them in transition."
But Florida closed the half with an 11-2 run, cutting Xavier's lead to 40-33 at the half on a Boynton 3-pointer with 14.6 seconds remaining.
"We knew we were capable of making a run," Parsons said. "We didn't want to get embarrassed on our home floor."