Florida benefits from close game

The Gators have heard plenty about their struggles to close games this season. It was evident as they answered questions on Saturday about finally securing a win. The 12-point win might not have seemed like a close win that Florida needed, but there's no doubt that it was. The Gators took Alabama's best shot early in the second half but still managed to come back and close out the game.

After Mike Rosario turned the ball over with 11:49 left in the game, the Gators went to a media timeout facing a 45-39 deficit. Things started to change soon after that. Florida ripped off a 27-7 run over the final 11:03 to run away with a 64-52 win.

But it didn't look as easy as the final score makes it sound.

The Gators went to that timeout to regroup. The Florida coaching staff wanted more energy, something they thought was lacking all game, and they pounded it into the minds of the players.

"Stay together," said Florida forward Casey Prather, who was singled out by Billy Donovan as the only player that brought an acceptable energy level. "Bring more energy and just persevere."

That's what Florida did. They knew they had taken Alabama's best shot. Sure, the Gators were facing a six-point deficit, but with the energy brought by a sold out crowd, Florida was still confident on the sideline.

The difference in this second half compared to other close games that Florida has played in, like Arizona and Missouri, was the offense. The Gators became content to launch perimeter shots in other games. On Saturday, the goal was to pound the ball into the paint.

If the big men were guarded, the Florida guards drove the ball to the rim.

"We went inside to Murph, Pat and Casey," Florida guard Kenny Boynton said. ‘They did a good job finishing. We attacked the paint more. That was the difference. We got it in the paint and we got fouled then finished our free throws, or we made layups."

The defense did its part, too. Alabama isn't an explosive offensive team, but they struggled during the final 11 minutes of the game. The Crimson Tide went just 2-for-9 from the field over that time and struggled to get back in the game while turning the ball over six times.

"I could not have been more proud of them fighting through," Billy Donovan said. "Our guys battled and fought, then found a way to get a lead and keep it."

The Florida defense finally showed the effort that the coaches wanted, and the players credited it to the practice regiment the Gators have spent more time under in recent weeks.

"Coach puts us in situations like that in practice," Boynton said. "In similar games where we've been down in the second half after giving up the lead, you've got to fight back and get stops.

"It's going to give us preparation for the NCAA Tournament. There will not be a lot of blowouts there. This was a game that we needed."

While Saturday should provide optimism for the close games that will come in the future, the Florida players were hesitant to say that it answered all the questions. The issues in close games on the road aren't solved by Florida playing a close game at home.

The Gators have just one road game left at Kentucky on Saturday before the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament.

"It's one game. You can't say for sure," Florida forward Erik Murphy said about answering the issues in close games. "I don't know if it means anything definitively. It just means that we did it this game."

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