HOOPS: Gators Roll Past the Tide

Atlanta, Ga.--The Florida Gators knocked of Alabama 68-62 Saturday in the Georgia Dome to earn a berth in the finals of the SEC Tournament on Sunday.

"No Florida team has gotten there back-to-back and that's exciting," said junior Matt Walsh. "It's just good for the University of Florida. We're only been there five times in our history so I think it's a testament of how good our team is.

Florida will play the winner of the Kentucky/LSU game Sunday. The Wildcats beat the Gators 89-73 in last year's championship game.

The Gators improved to 22-7 and the Crimson Tide dropped to 24-7.

Florida beat Alabama in Gainesville on Feb. 5 by the score of 85-54, but the game in Atlanta was much tougher for Coach Billy Donovan's squad.

"It turned out to be a half-court game and I thought our team did a good job defensively against Kennedy Winston, Earnest Shelton and Chuck Davis," Donovan said. "Down the stretch we made some big shots and Matt made some free throws to close it out. I'm proud of the way our guys battled and hung in there."

The big shots down the stretch came mostly from forward David Lee, who scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half.

"My teammates know how much I want to win," he said. "Being a senior and being a captain I wanted to will our team to victory. I didn't want this to be my last SEC game. I remember how much fun the finals were last year. I just tried to make plays happen and as long as they were playing one-on-one on the post I tried to take advantage of that."

The Gators led for most of the game but had to fight to pull out the win in the end.

After hitting 12-24 threes in Friday's 80-64 win over Mississippi State, the Gators came out firing from long range against Alabama as well. Florida's first nine points came from behind the three-point line as Walsh knocked down a pair and Anthony Roberson hit one to give the Gators an early 9-4 advantage.

Minutes later Lee Humphrey hit two threes on consecutive possessions to the stretch the lead to 22-14 and Florida held on for a 27-20 halftime lead.

--AP Photo/Bill Haber

The Crimson Tide came out of the break and scored the first seven points of the second half to tie the game at 27 apiece.

"In the first half we played a little tentative but in the second half we played loose," said Alabama coach Mark Gottfried. "We had a lot more energy and attacked the basket and I thought that helped us out."

The Tide eventually took a 36-35 lead on a pair of one-and-one free throws by Winston with 13:09 to play. Florida struck back with a transition lay-up from Roberson on a nice hesitation move, and Lee answered with a three-point play the old fashioned way. After another bucket by Roberson the Gators were up 42-36 with 10:40 remaining.

Winston and reserve forward Jean Felix scored 11 of the next 13 points for Alabama, but Lee was too tough inside as he muscled his way for six quick points.

The Gators led 55-49 with four minutes to play, but Lee picked up his fourth foul on a Chuck Davis bucket. Davis had a chance to cut deficit to one possession, but he missed the free throw and Walsh nailed a three from the top of the key at the other end of the court to give Florida a seven point lead at the 3:11 mark.

Jemareo Davidson scored on a lay-in, Lee missed a jumper for Florida, and Winston came down the court and hit an easy two to close within three at 58-55 with two minutes to play.

Lee continued his relentless inside play with another basket for the Gators give them a 60-55 advantage with 1:10 to go.

"He was making every shot," said Alabama forward Chuck Davis. "He made some big shots at the big times of the games. That was the killer part about it. Right when we needed a stop when were we coming back in the second half he was making good moves and good shots."

Lee gave credit to his teammates for opening up the low post for him.

"They made the decision to go one-one-one on the post, probably because of how well these two guys (Roberson and Walsh) shot yesterday," he said. "I started taking advantage of it. Coach told me to try to stay aggressive and I just tried to will our team to victory."

Davidson hit another basket for the Tide on an offensive rebound and fade-away jumper with 57.3 seconds to play.

Lee added two more points in the paint on a driving lay-up from the top of the key to push the Gator lead back to two possessions with 26.2 to play. Winston added an uncontested bucket to pull within three, but Alabama fouled the wrong player and Walsh calmly sank a pair of shots from the charity stripe. He extended Florida's lead to 64-59.

--AP Photo/Dave Martin

"There was nothing going through my mind," Walsh said. "Before I went up there Pepe (Roberson) and David told me to knock them down. I've been in situations like that in the last four of five games and I was confident I was going to knock them down."

The Crimson Tide didn't give up, but they kept fouling Walsh. The confident junior forward connected on all six of his free throws in the final 16.8 seconds of the game to ice the win for the Gators.

Lee led all scorers with 20 points and added seven rebounds. Walsh, who was cold for the middle 30 minutes for the game, finished with 17 points and three assists. Roberson, the SEC's scoring champ, had 13 points on 5-15 shooting. Freshman Corey Brewer, who played well in Thursday's game against the Bulldogs, had another solid game with 10 points and eight boards while making 3-4 shots from the field and 4-4 free throws.

Winston led Alabama in scoring with 19 points. Davidson recorded a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Felix scored 11 and pulled down eight boards for the Crimson Tide.

Neither team shot particularly well. Florida made 23-56 shots from the floor for 41.1 percent, while Alabama made just 24-63 from the floor. Shelton, who had eight three-pointers against Ole Miss, was 0-4 against the Gators as Alabama made only 3-19 three-point attempts.

"I guess it was one of those games," said Winston, who made only 1-8 from long range. "Like coach said, we're a pretty good shooting team but we were 3-19 on threes. If we could have knocked down a couple of shots it might have been a different game"

Florida turned the ball over only eight times, compared to 13 for Alabama, and the Crimson Tide won the rebounding battle 43-33

Tipoff for the final game of the tournament between Florida and either Kentucky or LSU is set for shortly after 1 p.m. on Sunday and will be aired on CBS.

"I'm happy for the kids," Donovan said. "I realize tomorrow, whether it's LSU or Kentucky, we'll be playing against another big, physical team. To be able to play on Sunday in this league, we feel like we're very, very fortunate to be one of the two."

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