Critical Game Goes To Gators Over Tide

Moral victories count for nothing. If anything, Alabama having an eight-point lead in the second half at Gainesville and then not able to hold on against Florida is more frustrating than if the expected – a romp by the Gators -- had happened.

It was anything but a rout. Alabama had its bad moments, such as Florida having an 11-0 run in the first half, and then the killer – the Tide getting two points in about an eight-minute stretch late in the second half. But the Crimson Tide gave it all it had before falling, 64-52. It was a game of three ties and eight lead changes before the Gators pulled away at the end.

Alabama was hoping to tie Florida, ranked sixth in the nation in one poll and eighth in another, for first in the Southeastern Conference. Instead, Bama fell to 19-10 overall and 11-5 in the SEC. Florida improved to 23-5 overall, 13-3 in the conference.

Alabama continues on the road with another tough SEC game, going to Oxford to take on Ole Miss at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Bama closes out regular season play a week from today hosting Georgia.

Alabama outscored Florida from the field. The Crimson Tide hit 22-55 field goals (40 per cent), including 4-15 three-point shots (26.7 per cent), for 48 points from the field. The Gators connected on 40-45 field goals (44.4 per cent), including 2-13 on treys (15.4 per cent) for 42 points from the field.

Bama outscored the Gators in the paint, 37-30. Both teams scored 12 points off turnovers. Alabama had the advantage in second chance points, 14-12, and in fast break points, 11-8. The rebounding difference was only two, Florida 33, Alabama 31.

So what was the difference for Florida?

Ah! Glad you asked!

Florida was 22-26 on free throws, Alabama 4-10 (with half the Bama made free throws coming in the final seconds when the issue was already decided).

"Things went their way," Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said. "We wanted to get to the free-throw line but that did not happen."

Alabama was led by Trevor Releford with 12 points and Trevor Lacey and Nick Jacobs with 11 each. Erik Murphy was tops for the Gators with 15 points (4 free throws), followed by Kenny Boynton with 13 points (6 free throws), Scottie Wilbekin 11 (3 free throws), and Casey Prather 10 (4 free throws).

The score was close throughout. Alabama opened the second half on a 14-4 run and led by as many as eight points, 45-37, with just over 12 minutes remaining. However, Florida ended the game on a 25-7 run to secure the win.

"It's always going to be a 40-minute game," Grant said. "We wanted to stay the course, not play too fast or play too slow, and that helped us to get the lead; but a team as good as Florida will know how to respond to that."

"This is not something that can discourage us," Grant said. "We just have to move forward. We still have the chance to get a top-four seed (in the SEC Tournament). We just need to be prepared to enter into another hostile environment at Ole Miss."

Florida had a 29-26 lead at halftime and scored first to start the second half. But while Alabama went through an early scoring drought, not getting a basket until nearly three and a half minutes into the second period, the Tide had not lost any ground when that first goal of the second half was finally made.

After having trailed since the early going, Bama tied the game at 31-31 on a Rodney Cooper three-pointer with 15:40 to play. When Jacobs made a blocked shot, Releford turned it into a coast-to-coast layup and Alabama's first lead at 35-33 since it was 8-7. Moments later Releford was out front on a break and canned a three-pointer to make it a five-point lead.

The Gators closed to within two points at 39-37, and then Bama went on a tear.

Cooper had a putback and Releford stole the inbounds pass to make it 43-37. At the other end of the floor, Retin Obasohan got a loose ball and fired ahead to Releford for a layup. It was Alabama 45, Florida 37 with 12:33 to play.

And then the Tide offense all but stopped.

Florida outscored Bama by 27-7 to close it out.

Alabama had some bad luck. In trying to comeback the Tide twice had breakout layups that were made and on which there was contact, and in both cases the ruling was that the Tide shooter had been guilty of an offensive foul, wiping out the baskets and possible free throw attempts. And then with almost no time to spare, the Gators got an incredibly lucky break when a last-ditch three-point Florida try wedged between the backgoard and the rim. That's equivalent to a held ball, and the possession arrow was in favor of the Gators, giving them 35 more seconds and forcing the Tide to foul.

No one could fault Alabama's effort in the first half in a tough environment. Bama fought back from an 11-point deficit as the Gators had an early 12-0 run against the visitors. But Alabama kept plugging away offensively and picked it up defensively and trailed by only three points at intermission, 29-26.

Alabama's early offense was Trevor Lacey being left open and able to make a couple of three-point shots. Lacey also had a nice assist to Trevor Releford and the Tide had an early 8-7 lead.

But then the Gators went on a 12-0 run to go up 19-8 before back-up guard Retin Obasohan hit a 15-footer to stop the bleeding. Florida also had the advantage of not being called for a foul in the first 10 minutes of the half while the Gators were in the one-and-one by then. Additionally, starting center Moussa Gueye and starting guard Rodney Cooper were on the bench with two early fouls.

Alabama kept scrapping, getting key baskets from Devongta Pollard and Levi Randolph and a tip-in by Nick Jacobs and a fast break bucket by Lacey to pull to within three.

Later the Tide had a chance to get within one on a free throw (that was missed) and had the basketball down just two points at 24-22, but the Gators got another unguarded trey to pull back out to 27-22. Down the stretch before halftime, the Gators got a basket from Patric Young, but the Tide got a tip-in and a lay-up from Jacobs and went to halftime down by only 29-26.

TIDE NOTES: Trevor Releford's 12 points give him 1,208 for his career, putting him 35th on the all-time Alabama scoring list. Only 36 players in Bama history have reached the 1,200 point plateau.

Although Alabama has a 73-61 edge in games played against Florida, the Gators continue to draw closer, and quickly. Florida has now won six consecutive games against Bama, including all five by UF Coach Billy Donovan against his former assistant, Anthony Grant. The Gators have won 17 of the last 20 games in the series.

Alabama continues its starting lineup of junior center Moussa Gueye, surrounded by guards junior Trevor Releford, and sophomores Trevor Lacey, Levi Randolph, and Rodney Cooper.

We may have learned the secret of Alabama's infuriating inefficiency on those last chance possessions that ordinarily come at the end of the first half. To be sure, Bama didn't have a great chance at the end of the first half Saturday. The Tide was down three points, 29-26, and got the ball into front court with just over eight seconds to play. And didn't get a shot off. But Florida had the ball with 39 seconds to play in the half and was probably playing for the last shot of the half, and didn't get the ball away. Maybe Bama Coach Anthony Grant learned this last possession strategy from his longtime mentor, Florida Coach Billy Donovan.

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