Florida sputters through win over Albany

The Gators cruised through the second half of the season with 21 straight wins over Southeastern Conference teams. When they opened the NCAA Tournament on Thursday against Albany, it was supposed to be similar to that script. Instead, Florida failed to put away the Great Danes until late in the game, struggling through a 67-55 win over Albany.

The Gators advance to face Pittsburgh on Saturday at a time yet to be determined. Florida will be playing for its fourth straight appearance in the Sweet 16.

Every year there always seems to be a No. 1 seed that struggles with a No. 16 seed in the first half before cruising to a victory in the end. But that's not what Thursday was. The Gators failed to get their lead to double digits until the lone three-pointer made from Michael Frazier did so with 10:06 remaining.

The Florida lead stayed around that range -- getting no lower than eight points and no bigger than 13 points -- for the rest of the game. The double-digit margin of victory wasn't enough to make up for the way Florida played on Wednesday.

"It was good enough to win, but is it good enough to play against a team like Pittsburgh? Probably not," Donovan said. "I'm proud of our guys because they found a way to win when they didn't play their best, and you know what, they've always been really good at being able to learn valuable lessons in a lot of ways.

So hopefully they'll be able to come back and correct that and do a little bit better."

The teams went back and forth during the first half with 11 lead changes. Florida's six-point halftime lead was its biggest of the first half. The Great Danes were able to hang in the game by taking care of the ball and shooting a high percentage before the Gators forced them to miss their final six shots of the first half.

Even with that slump, Albany stayed in the game and gave the No. 1 overall seed a difficult game to open the tournament.

"I was a little bit disappointed with our defense in the first half," Billy Donovan said. "I didn't think we defended like we normally did. I thought in the second half we did a much, much better job in that area."

The plan for Albany was to take Florida three-point specialist Michael Frazier out of the game, forcing other players to take jump shots. It worked. The Gators settled for long two-pointers while Frazier took just one shot in the first half. He went just 1-4 in the first half, hitting a three-pointer.

Albany head coach Will Brown recognized the importance of Frazier to the Florida offense and knew he wanted to take the sophomore out of the game.

"He has the smoothest stroke since Ray Allen," Albany coach Will Brown said. "We were determined not to let him get a free look. Unbelievable shooter, arguably as good of a shooter as you'll find in college basketball. We wanted to force them to beat us with twos. We didn't want to give them as many dunks as we did, but we had to give up something. We were not going to let Frazier beat us. We stayed home on him, we didn't help off him. We always wanted to know where he was at all times."

Outside of Frazier, Brown said his defense also focused on Scottie Wilbekin on the perimeter. They were fine with any other Florida player taking a jumper.

"Our game plan was not to let those two guys beat us, and our guys I thought did a pretty good job. But Frazier, he might be the best shooter in all of college basketball."

With the game tied at 39 and 14:04 remaining, Patric Young fought through contact to grab an offensive rebound and dunk while being fouled. That three-point play jumpstarted a 12-2 run that served as the knockout blow the Gators needed.

Freshman point guard Kasey Hill led the run with the energy he provided off the bench. After being questionable for Thursday with turf toe, Hill provided 10 points for the Gators, his first double-digit scoring game since he did it in two of the first three games this season.

"Kasey coming off the bench there in the second half gave us really great minutes, played very well, was a real good spark for us," Donovan said.

The Gators advance to play on Saturday against Pittsburgh in Orlando. Game time and television schedules have not been announced. Pittsburgh beat Colorado 77-48 in Orlando during the early game on Thursday.


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