Tide Comes Close, But Same Old Story

Florida doesn’t have a very good basketball team, at least by Billy Donovan standards. And this year the Gators have had a tendancy to falter in the second half. Alabama, on the other hand, seems to play its best with its back against the wall.

And so there was a perfect storm in Coleman Coliseum, or so it seemed. But in the end, it was the same old Alabama Coach Anthony Grant vs. Donovan.

The Crimson Tide held Florida to only 17 second half points, but the Tide needed two more, and when Levi Randolph’s short jumper with three seconds to play was blocked, the Gators had a 52-50 win.

Grant started his rise up the coaching ladder as a prized assistant to Donovan. It sounds like the old routine: Young coach, “He taught me everything I know.” Old coach, “But I didn’t teach him everything I know.”

It was the same story it has been everytime Alabama under Grant has played Florida under Donovan. Grant is 0-9. And almost every basketball observer believed if Grant was ever going to beat Donovan and Florida, it had to be this year.

Alabama is now 13-7 overall and 3-4 in Southeastern Conference games. Florida ended a three-game losing streak and is now 11-9 overall, 4-3 in the SEC.

Alabama finishes what has been a very difficult run with the most difficult task of all Saturday. The Crimson Tide goes to Lexington to face undefeated and number one ranked Kentucky. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. CST (7 eastern) with television coverage by the SEC Network.

This will be the second meeting between the Tide and Wildcats in two weeks. Kentucky romped to a 70-48 win in the Tuscaloosa game.

Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith was the last minute hero for the Gators, blocking a Tide shot on one end and driving the lane for a slam dunk for the winning points with 21 seconds to play, and then blocking Randolph’s last try.

Alabama fought the good fight in trying to get back. The defense did the job, holding the Gators to just 17 second half points, while Bama – which trailed 35-22 at halftime – twice was able to tie the game in the second half, the last time at 50-50 when Ricky Tarrant hit a three-point shot with 2:15 to play. The only score the rest of the game would be the game-winner.

Florida hit 20-46 field goals for 43.5 per cent and Bama 18-46 for 39.1 per cent. The Gators made 5-16 three-point shots (35.3 per cent), Alabama 6-17 (35.3 per cent). Florida made 7-9 free throws (77.8 per cent), the Tide 8-12 for 66.7 per cent.

Alabama had a 30-28 edge in rebounding with Michael Kessens getting a game-high 8 for the Tide.

Alabama had 12 first half turnovers that resulted in 11 points for the Gators. Bama had five more second half turnovers, but Florida got no more points off them. Florida had 16 turnovers, resulting in 16 Tide points.

A key was Bama center Jimmie Taylor getting two quick offensive fouls in the first half and another quick offensive foul in the second half. Florida outscored Alabama 26-10 on points in the paint. Taylor, who had six blocked shots against Auburn last week, did not have a block in his mere 10 minutes of playing time.

Florida was effective in the fast break with 8 points (Alabama had 2).

Ricky Tarrant led the second half comeback offensively as he scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half. Rodney Cooper was the only other Tide player in double figures with a game-high 14 points. Florida was led by Eli Carter with 13 and Chris Walker, who came off the bench to hit 6-8 field goals for 12 points.

Alabama pulled to within three points midway through the second half and Tarrant made a steal and layup to tie the game at 41-41 with 7:45 to play. The Gators, though, retook the lead with a three-pointer by Chris Chiozza.

With 2:15 Tarrant hit a three-pointer to tie it at 50-50, but Bama could not get over the hump.

Alabama’s only lead in the game lasted only 66 seconds as Riley Norris made a tough inside shot on Bama’s first possession of the game. Florida answered with a three-pointer, added another trey on its third possession, and the Gators – despite so-so shooting – began to pull away.

The Tide pulled to within two at 8-10 on a Rodney Cooper jumper, but Florida got a fast break layup, a scramble putback, and took advantage of a Bama turnover to double the score a 16-8. Another runout layup made it a 10-point lead with 8:30 to play in the first half.

Even when Bama did good things, it turned sour. Levi Randolph made a nice effort to save an out-of-bounds ball, but it went straight to a Gator for a slam dunk.

The Gators scored the last five points of the first half to lead 35-22. Bama’s first half statistics included 12 turnovers, and Florida had 11 points off those turnovers.

One tough break for Alabama was Jimmie Taylor being charged with two offensive foul calls in the first two-and-a-half minutes. The Gators outscored Bama 18-4 on points in the paint in the first 20 minutes. (Taylor got his third – another offensive foul two minutes and five seconds into the second half.)

TIDE NOTES: Starters for Alabama were point guard Ricky Tarrant, guard Levi Randolph, wing Rodney Cooper, forward Riley Norris, and center Jimmie Taylor.

Alabama once had a commanding lead on Florida in the all-time series, and still leads 73-65, but the Gators have now won 10 in a row and 21 of the last 24 against the Tide.

Alabama does not meet Florida again in regular season play.

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