The loss was also critical for the Gators who are trying to secure first round games in Jacksonville for the NCAA Tournament. To ensure a shot at playing the first two games of the tournament before a Gator-friendly crowd just 60 miles from home, the Gators need to win their final two regular season games, at home Wednesday against Georgia and next Sunday in Lexington against Kentucky.
For Alabama (16-10, 9-5 SEC West), the win kept the Crimson Tide a full game ahead of fast-charging Arkansas for second place in the SEC West. The Crimson Tide, which has played one of the nation's tougher schedules, also got a boost in the RPI which enhances its chances of making the NCAA Tournament field.
Florida shot its way out of contention in the first half Sunday, hitting just 26 percent from the field. By the time the Gators re-discovered their shooting touch in the second half, their rebounding abandoned them completely. With Richard Hendrix (11 points, 17 rebounds) and Jemario Davidson (16 points, 10 rebounds) dominating on the inside in the second half, Alabama got plenty of second chance points and was able to keep the Gators at bay. Florida made some impressive runs to get back into the game, but each time it looked like the Gators were going to turn the corner and turn the game into a true nail-biter, Hendrix or Davidson came up with a big play on the backboards.
One 36-second sequence defined the kind of afternoon it was for the ninth-ranked Gators. Trailing by five points and trying desperately to claw their way back from a nine-point second half deficit, Alabama's Jean Felix missed the second of two free throws. The ball caromed in the direction of Joakim Noah but as he reached for the ball he was shoved by Davidson. The ball went out of bounds off Noah's hands and instead of possession and a chance to cut the Bama lead by either two or three, Alabama got the ball back under its goal.
With 40 seconds left Felix launched a three from the wing. In the scramble for the ball, Hendrix hit the deck and Florida's Al Horford was called for a foul with 36.9 seconds left. Hendrix missed both free throws with the second bouncing into the hands of Davidson, who fell out of bounds. The officials ruled that Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried called time out as Davidson was falling out of bounds.
On Alabama's inbounds play, Ronald Steele was fouled and he hit both free throws to increase Alabama's lead to 78-71.
So instead of getting the ball with a chance to hack into the Alabama lead three times, the Gators lost 36 seconds of critical time on the clock plus had another two points to make up.
That just wasn't going to happen on this day.
Florida shot 3-15 from behind the three-point line in a first half in which the Gators couldn't throw it in the ocean if they were standing on the end of the pier. The Gators did have 10 first half offensive rebounds and that was the only thing that kept them in the game.
Florida gave up an 8-0 run by Alabama which enabled the Crimson Tide to build a 21-9 cushion. The Gators regrouped to play Alabama on even terms the remainder of the half but it was Florida's inability to hit open shots that kept the Gators from chipping into Alabama's lead.
Down nine (33-24) with 1:02 remaining, the Gators had a 17-second sequence in which they missed a wide open three and then two consecutive stick backs of offensive rebounds by Horford from point blank range. Alabama converted an offensive rebound into a running bank shot by Steele with 6.2 seconds left in the half to give Alabama its 35-24 lead at the intermission.
Florida still couldn't hit the three-ball early in the second half but the Gators were able to cut deeply into Alabama's lead by pounding the ball inside. Of Florida's first 12 points of the half, six were dunks and four came on free throws by the big guys inside. When Chris Richard hit two foul shots with 12:31 left, it marked the closest the Gators had been (42-38) since the 13:39 mark of the first half.
The lid that seemed to be on the basket when the Gators shot from beyond the arc was lifted at 11:37 remaining when Taurean Green nailed a long three-pointer to bring the Gators to within three at 44-41. Alabama stretched its lead back to seven, 50-43, when Lee Humphrey caught fire. Humphrey was 0-4 from beyond the arc when he finally got one to fall with 9:42 remaining. He would hit four of his next five three-point attempts to help keep the Gators close.
A Horford follow at 7:18 and a Humphrey three from the corner with 6:24 trimmed a nine-point Alabama lead back to four, 58-54, but Alabama answered with a pair of free throws by Alonzo Gee and a breakaway dunk by Gee off a pass that went over the top of Florida's press with 5:20 left.
Alabama held a 73-65 lead with 1:38 remaining when Green was fouled trying a three-pointer. The Florida point guard hit all three of his free throws to trim the lead to four, setting the stage for the bizarred 36 second sequence that slammed the door on the Gators.
For the game, Florida was 11-30 from the three-point line --- 8-15 in the second half. Florida shot 39.3 percent from the field on 24-61 shooting. Alabama, meanwhile, went 6-12 from the three-point line and 27-58 from the field (46.6 percent). The Gators were deadly from the foul line, hitting 18-20 (Alabama was 22-31) but they were outrebounded 42-33. Alabama had 17 offensive rebounds for the game.
Florida put all five starters in double figures with Green leading the way with 20 points. Humphrey had 15, Noah and Horford had 12 each and Brewer had 11. The Gators got only seven points off the bench while Alabama had 25 bench points from Felix and Gee.