Another Giant Slain

It seems that everyone wants to wait until March 12, Selection Sunday, to see if the NCAA will invite Alabama's basketball team to the field of 65 for the national championship tournament. If the Crimson Tide isn't in it won't be beause Bama has failed to get wins over the best teams in the Southeastern Conference. Florida, ranked ninth in the nation, was the latest victim.

>p> Alabama got balanced scoring with five men in double figures and dispatched Florida, 82-77, in Coleman Coliseum Sunday. It was no surprise that Ron Steele was key for the Tide with 19 points and seven assists, but there was credit due each of the Magnificent Seven and Coach Mark Gottfried.

In last year's 85-54 blowout loss at the hands of Florida in Gainesvville, Bama had only 23 rebounds. On Saturday in Coleman Coliseum the Crimson Tide had a 42-33 advantage on the boards, including Richard Hendrix grabbing nine offensive and eight defensive rebounds for a total of 17. Bama had 17 offensive boards. Both Hendrix, who had 11 points, and Jermareo Davidson with 16 points and 10 rebounds, had important double-double performances.

"The rebounds were big," Gottfried said. "Richard and Jermareo got the job done under there."

Two of those with double digit points came off the bench. Jean Felix and Alonzo Gee, who constitute the entire Crimson Tide substitution corps, had 14 and 11 points each. "Getting 25 points out of Felix and Gee is big," Gottfried said. "Early in the year we weren't getting that."

Alothough freshman guard Brandon Hollinger doesn't usually score much and had only seven points Sunday, Gottfried pointed out how important Hollinger had been in taking some of the ball-handling duties off Steele. Playing against an aggressive, full-court pressing defense, Bama suffered only nine turnovers.

jAlabama never trailed in the contest. Florida tied the game at 2-2 and 7-7, but Bama led the rest of the game.

The win improved Alabama to 16-10 overall and 9-5 in SEC games. Bama has a one game lead over Arkansas for second place in the SEC Western Division. Because the Tide has the dtie-breaker advantage over Arkansas, a Bama win either Wednesday night against Auburn in Tuscaloosa or next Saturday at Mississippi State would give Alabama second place in the SEC West. LSU has clinched first place in the division. The advantage of being second is getting one of the first day byes when the SEC Tournament begins in Nashville March 9.

Alabama now has wins over the top three teams in the SEC Eastern Division–Florida, Kentucky in Lexington, and just over a week agaonst 10th ranked Tennessee, which has clinched the SEC East title. Bama has also split games with LSU and Arkansas, which will join Bama as the top three teams in the West. "I don't think anyhone else has done that," Gottfried said.

Still, neither Gottfried nor his players would offer any confidence about an NCAA bid. The players were obviously giving the party line, such as Ron Steele saying there has been no talk about the NCAA Tournament or about the seeds for the SEC Tournament.

Gottfried said, "I think we have to think about getting ready to play Auburn." The game against Auburn tips off at 7 p.m. CST Wednesday in Coleman Coliseum. It will be Senior Night with Evan Brock, Jean Felix and Chuck Davis (who has been out since the first game of SEC play with a knee injury) being recognized. Gottfried is hoping for a third straight home sellout for the final Coleman Coliseum game of the year. A crowd of 15,335 was announced for the Florida game.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan congratulated Gottfried for a great coaching job this year after losing Davis. He said that the Gators had now played every team in the SEC and he thought Alabama was as good as any of them. He pointed out that his interest is in Florida and that he doesn't study all the criteria, but allowed that Alabama "probably deserves to be in (the NCAA Tournament), along with a lot of other teams."

The win over Florida broke a five-game losing streak at the hands of the Gators.

Gottfried said, "I thought both teams looked a little tired. When you win one like that you feel like you had to grind it out and play through fatigue. I'm glad to win a game like that."

Alabama had an 11-point halftime lead, 35-24, primarily because the Gators were cold shooting. Florida hit only one of five three-point tries and shot only 25.7 per cent from the field in the first half. "I thought we were fortunate to be down only 11," Donovan said. The Gators came back with 53 second half points, but could never get closer than three points to Bama.

the Florida turn-around was sparked by junior guard Lee Humphrey, who missed all four of his first half shots, then came back to hit five of eight three-pointers in the second half and finishe with 15 points. Taurean Green had three points at intermission and finished with a game-high 20 points. All five Florida starters scored in double figures with Al Horford and Joakin Noah getting a dozen each and Corey Breweer scoring 11. The Florida bench contributed only seven points.

Donovan said, "I thought Alabama was more consistent."


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