Gators Face Alabama in SEC Opener

The Florida Gators lost their last trip to Tuscaloosa when the Crimson Tide extended a Gator losing streak to three games. Florida didn't lose another game that season en route to the school's first national championship.

It's a different team for the Gators (13-2), but Alabama (11-4) still has a pair of players from that squad – Richard Hendrix and Alonzo Gee – who each scored 11 points against the Gators. They're ‘Bama's two leading scorers this season.

The Tide are on a bit of a hot streak, winning seven of their last eight, and despite some early losses, head coach Billy Donovan said they'll present a difficult challenge for his young Gators.

"You see them play against Georgetown and played them to the wire and had every opportunity to win that game," Donovan said. "It's a team that has speed and quickness, and they're opening up at home in the SEC. It should be a great environment and another challenge for our guys."

Florida will have it hands full with junior forward Hendrix. At 6-8, 265-pounds, Hendrix averages a double-double, scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 boards a game. Marreese Speights is the only Gator with the size to match up with the SEC's leading rebounder.

"We've got our hands full with him," Donovan said. "I don't know if film does him justice on how good he is. He's a terrific offensive rebounder. We can't expect a guy like Marreese to play him one-on-one all game long, so we're going to have to come up with some way to help out on him. But I worry more about him on the offensive glass."

But what makes Alabama dangerous is their ability to hit the outside shot. They rank fourth in the conference in 3-point shooting and have one of the SEC's best outside shooters in Mykal Riley. Riley is a 45 percent shooter (42-of-93).

"They have 3-4 guys that are shooting the ball real well from the perimeter," Donovan said. "The thing that makes Alabama good is their ability to shoot the 3. They are a very good outside shooting team."

With Florida's success in the SEC, winning the last three conference championships, Donovan expects to get everyone's best shot as the Gators look to rebuild.

"I still think we're going to get everyone's best games because of what's happened around here the last couple of years," Donovan said. "I believe Alabama will play their best game of the year against us. I think that's a great thing for our young guys. When you get the best from somebody, you hope that it brings out the best in you."

Florida is healthy heading into its SEC opener with the exception of forward Chandler Parsons. There has been some sickness spreading around the team recently, and Parsons is the latest victim. He wasn't expected to practice on Monday, but is expected to travel with the team.

Tuesday's starting lineup will remain the same that it's been throughout the season.

"I've never been a guy that's gotten wrapped up in who starts," Donovan said. "I would say that the guys that are starting have been the most consistent guys in practice. Chandler has played well and he comes off the bench. Jonathan [Mitchell] has played well in the last couple of games and he comes off the bench."

Even though Florida lacks size and physicality, Donovan likes the versatility of lineups he can put on the floor.

"The thing that I like about our team is that we have the ability to change the lineup and change the size and the look and the quickness on the floor," he said. "It's going to be hard in our league to play consistent minutes with Walter [Hodge], Jai [Lucas] and Nick [Calathes] together, but those guys are going to play a lot and are going to help us."

Tip-off for the Gators' SEC opener is set for 9:00 p.m. and will air on ESPN.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski


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