Alabama, 18-6 overall and 5-5 in SEC play, travels to Gainesville, Florida, to take on the defending national champion and number one ranked Florida Gators (23-2, 10-0) on Wednesday. Tip-off in the O'Connell Center is set for 8 p.m. EST (7 p.m. central time). The game will be regionally televised.
On Saturday Alabama hosts Kentucky at 2 p.m. in sold-out Coleman Coliseum in another regionally-televised contest. The Wildcats are ranked 20th in the Associated Press ratings and 18th in the Coaches Poll.
The Crimson Tide is tied with Ole Miss for the SEC's Western Division lead while Florida has sole possession of the top spot in the Eastern Division.
Wednesday night's game marks the 126th meeting in basketball between Alabama and Florida. Alabama leads the series 72 wins to 53 by Florida. Alabama won the last time these two teams played, collecting an 82-77 victory against Florida in Tuscaloosa last season. Florida has won five of the last six. Alabama's last win in Gainesville was in 1995 in a series where the two teams play one another only once during the regular season and swap sites each year. Alabama has made five unsuccessful trips to Gainesville since that 1995 win.
This is the second time Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried has taken his Tide team to Gainesville to face the Gators when they were the top team in the nation. Florida was ranked number one in the nation when Alabama played there on February 8, 2003. Florida won the game 75-56. And it's the third time an Alabama team has faced the nation's top-ranked team on Valentine's Day. Alabama played Kentucky in Tuscaloosa on February 14, 1949 and lost 56-40. It played the number one Wildcats again on February 14, 1965 in Lexington and lost 80-67.
Gottfried is bringing a 2007 Alabama team into Gainesville that includes five starters who all were major contributors in Alabama's 82-77 win in Tuscaloosa on February 26, 2006. Point guard Ronald Steele led the win with 19 points and seven assists. Center Jermareo Davidson had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Richard Hendrix, then a freshman, had 11 points and 17 rebounds. Alonzo Gee came off the bench and scored 11, and Brandon Hollinger scored seven points in the Alabama win against the Florida team that would go on to win the 2006 NCAA title.
"We're going up against the National Champions in their home," said Hendrix who has had 11 double-doubles this season and is averaging 14.9 points and is the SEC's field goal percentage leader going into the game. "They're the No. 1 team in the country. Last time we played them, we won, so we know what it's like to beat that same team. We just have to go in there and get it done. It's an important game for us.
"Florida does everything well. They have depth. They're coached well. They play well. They play unselfishly and they have strength in every position on the court," said Hendrix.
Gottfried is 1-1 in coaching Alabama against the nation's number one ranked team. Though it fell at Florida in 2003, his underdog 2004 Alabama team stunned the nation when it defeated then number one Stanford 70-67 in the second round of the NCAA tournament and followed that win by dusting off the defending national champions, Syracuse, 80-71 in the Sweet 16 to advance to the Elite 8.
"We've got an opportunity to play the number one team in the country," said Gottfried. "It's going to be a great environment there I'm sure. It's a great opportunity for our players and our program. I think Florida is an excellent team, obviously. They've taken their game to another level. If you think of them last year at this time and then this year at this time, they're obviously a much better team now than they were even a year ago. So we understand it's going to be a great challenge for us.
"If you look at Florida's numbers, there's not a lot of weaknesses there. Their perimeter players shoot the ball really well. Their inside guys, both (Joakim) Noah and (Al)Horford shoot 62 and 63 per cent from the field. They get to the foul line a great deal. You look at their numbers, they've taken 550 foul shots. Opponents have only taken 402. You can kind of go down the line. That's why they're the number one team in the country and that's why they're 23-2. And I think they've probably seen every different type of way that teams have tried to attack them and they have handled it. So they've done a very good job with all of that."