Tide Needs To Step It Up At Florida

Think of Florida: Beaches. Oranges. Mouse ears. Highway Patrol. One of the last things most would think about is the defense played by the Florida Gators basketball team. But with Alabama headed to Gainesville Tuesday for a key Southeastern Conference game, that's on the minds of coaches and players in Tuscaloosa.

"I don't want to make this bigger than it is," said Alabama senior center Chris Hines, who is coming off one of his best games for Bama. "But it's Senior Night for Florida. It's Coach Grant going to Gainesville, where he was an assistant for so long. It may be for the SEC championship.

"But I don't want to make it any bigger than it is. It would be huge in my career."

Alabama and Florida have identical 11-3 SEC records, Bama having clinched the Western Division championship, the Gators a game away from clinching. The winner of Tuesday's game will be a game up for the overall title with one game to play.

Tipoff Tuesday is at 7 p.m. EST (6 p.m. central time) from the O'Donnell Center in Gainesville.

Alabama is coming off a disappointing loss at Ole Miss, while the Gators lost Saturday at Kentucky. Bama is 19-9 overall and the Gators are 22-6.

Hines said he thinks the key to the game is "our defense."

The Crimson Tide has struggled in its last two outings. Before losing on the road at Mississippi by a 68-63 margin Saturday, the Tide had struggled against the league's worst team, Auburn, winning 51-49 on a last half second tip-in.

"I'd say that's agood thing," Hines mused. "It means we're due for a good game."

Hines had a nice game in Oxford, a career-high 15 points (6-7 from the field), seven rebounds, two assists, and two steals.

Both Alabama under Coach Anthony Grant and Florida under Coach Billy Donovan are excellent defensive teams, ranked first and second in the SEC.

Alabama's defense is surrendering just 58.2 points per game, fifth best scoring defense in the nation. Florida's defense is allowing 62.2 points per game.

Alabama has held all 28 opponents and all 14 SEC foes to an average of just 0.84 point per possession, which is best in the nation. The Tide allows opponents to make just 37.3 per cent of field goal attempts, second best nationally.

Grant said that Florida "has great team chemistry and leadership with five starters back from last year." He said the Gators can attack inside or shoot from the perimeter and that the defensive package includes a good press and both zone and man-to-man.

Still, Grant is more concerned with Alabama. "We need to play better," he said. "This past week we did not play up to our standard." He did give credit to the opponents for the substandard play.

Grant said a key would be limiting Florida in the Gators' transition game, while Alabama gets points in transition. "The first part of that is getting stops," he said. He added that Bama players must take quality shots, protect the basketball, and "play defense to the best of our ability.

"We want to be playing at our best as we go into the post-season."

There has been a lot of talk about Alabama's NCAA Tournament chances. Most believe a win over Florida would guarantee the Tide a spot in the tournament. Bama is 3-1 against SEC Eastern Division teams this year (wins over Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina and a controversial road loss to Vanderbilt).

Alabama returns home to close out regular season play against Georgia Saturday. Florida finishes at Vanderbilt.

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