Three losses later, the Gators still need two wins to earn a 10th straight invitation to the Big Dance. There is no mulligan left in the bag. There is no margin for error. The Gators simply must beat Mississippi State and Alabama in Atlanta or it'll be the NIT for just the second time under Coach Billy Donovan.
First up is Alabama, a team that Florida beat 90-83 in their SEC opener back on January eighth. Alabama (16-15, 5-11) has some motivation of its own, needing a win to finish above the .500 mark and strengthen its candidacy for an NIT bid.
Florida's win over Alabama was a hugely significant win for the Gators who seemingly proved that their 13-2 non conference record was not a fluke.
The game challenged the Gators to play well on the road and battle back from a seven point halftime deficit. Florida scored 50 points in the final twenty minutes to earn the win. The Gators won despite center Marreese Speights (6/7) being completely outplayed by Alabama's Richard Hendrix (24/16). The Gators won despite being lit up by West Palm Beach native Alonzo Gee to the tune of 32 points.
The Gators got a tremendous performance from Nick Calathes who flirted with a triple double (21/7. 9 assists), a season high (still) 19 points from Jai Lucas and another 17 from Walter Hodge.
Florida coach Billy Donovan said the Gators really don't know that much about Alabama since they played more than two months ago.
"I think this is a little bit of a different situation for our guys.
In fact, we really have to get reacquainted with Alabama because we
played them in the first game in the SEC schedule back in January and I think both teams are probably a lot different today than back during
that game. I think also the circumstances of where both teams are at
right now and the fact that Alabama got a great home win against a very good Vanderbilt team. Both teams probably are much different and a lot changed from that first meeting. This is a situation right now for us where we have to get our guys to get a very good picture as we get ready to play them on Thursday. There's a lot to get prepared for, because to me, it's like preparing for a new opponent because it has been such a long time since we last played them."
Donovan's team has its hands full with the Crimson Tide, especially with Gee and Hendrix who combined for 56 points in the first meeting.
"I think Hendrix and Gee and (Mykal) Riley, and (Rico) Pickett at that time was a freshman point guard and it was his first SEC game. He has grown and developed and gotten a lot better. They were playing back when we played them pretty much all man-to-man. They have kind of switched and played some match-up zone right now. They have made some adjustments and done some different things with their style as
well, but their personnel are very athletic and very talented."
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel
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