Gator power play

Florida is too much for Bama


Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 at 1:37 a.m.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - It was a game that Florida coach Billy Donovan called "great for TV" because of the offense and all the 3-point shots that rained down.

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Florida forward David Lee dunks over Alabama forward Chuck Davis in the first half of the No. 22 Gators' 88-78 win Tuesday night. Lee ended the night with 24 points.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Yet, in the end it was defense that carried No. 22 Florida to a much-needed road win, 88-78, at Alabama in Coleman Coliseum.

Florida (13-4) held Alabama to one field goal the final 6:44 and got big shots from Anthony Roberson and David Lee down the stretch to begin a two-game road stretch on the right foot.

"Our guys did a good job down the stretch getting some stops," Donovan said. "We held them to something like three shots in their final nine possessions, so any time you can do that it gives you a good chance to win."

Roberson scored 26 points and Lee added 24 as Florida improved to 4-2 in the Southeastern Conference and 2-2 on the road, where wins are hard to come by.

"There was no way we were going to come in here and get an easy victory, and we knew that," Lee said.

But it appeared oh so easy when the Gators went up 53-40 on a 3-pointer by Christian Drejer early in the second half. That's when Alabama (11-6, 3-3) began its charge, led by sophomore forward Kennedy Winston, who scored 21 of his team-high 25 points in the second half. Winston, hobbled with a sore knee, nearly single-handedly brought back the Tide after not practicing Monday and having fluid drained from his knee an hour before the game.

"His knee was bigger than the size of a watermelon," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "I didn't know he could play, and he played with a lot of heart and a lot of courage."

Three times, Winston was left open at the same spot from beyond the 3-point line, and on three straight trips down the floor, he knocked them in. The 13-point lead evaporated to four as quick as pole day at the Daytona 500.

"Winston played an incredible game," Donovan said. "They did a good job penetrating in our zone and finding him on open spots in the floor."

"I was just trying to stay aggressive," Winston said.

Winston's fifth 3-pointer of the second half gave Alabama its first lead 72-71, but Roberson answered with a three-point play when he was fouled on a bank shot. Then, after Winston tied the score at 74, Roberson deflected a missed 3-point attempt by Matt Walsh into the basket, with the aid of some heavy backspin.

"I didn't even know that the ball was on its way in," Roberson said.

Lee scored four straight points on two free throws and a layup, and after Antoine Pettway made two free throws to cut the lead to 80-76, Roberson sank his sixth 3-pointer of the game from the right corner.

"I wanted the ball in my hands," Roberson said. "Coach has confidence in me that I could hit the big shot."

The game between the SEC's top scoring offense (Florida) and top scoring defense (Alabama) played at a tempo to Florida's liking. Florida showed signs of breaking out of its two-game offensive funk by pushing the ball down the floor and pounding the ball inside to Lee, who scored eight of Florida's first 19 points.

"We tried to push it inside in the first half to get some easy baskets," Lee said. "They did a pretty good job of making some adjustments in the second half with their defense, and they made some stops."

Freshman Lee Humphrey sank a 3 to put Florida up 22-14. Then Gottfried, incensed about a non-call at the other end of the floor, was whistled for a technical.

Walsh made both free throws to put Florida up 24-14, but Gottfried succeeded in getting the ref's attention. After a 3-pointer by Walsh put Florida up 36-24, the Tide went to forward Chuck Davis, who forced four fouls inside and made 6-of-8 free throw attempts. Florida was called for 12 first-half fouls.

Davis cut Florida's lead to 43-40 when he made one of two free throws with 1:41 to go in the half. Roberson then sank 3-pointers on consecutive trips down the floor to put Florida up 49-40.

"We got in a lot of foul trouble," Donovan said. "We had four guys with two fouls. I thought they did an excellent job getting the ball inside to Davis."

Alabama had a chance to cut into the lead before halftime, but was whistled for a 24-second violation. Demetrius Smith, confused between the shot clock and game clock, kept dribbling with 2.9 seconds remaining as the shot clock expired.

The teams combined for 21 3-pointers. Walsh added 13 for Florida, Drejer scored nine and Humphrey came off the bench to score nine points on three 3s.

Florida next plays Saturday at Tennessee, and Donovan wasn't ready to ordain this as the road win that could help his team turn the corner.

"There are so many games left," Donovan said. "We're only six games into this and there's 12 left so hopefully we'll get to where we want to go, if I stay alive."

You can reach Kevin Brockway at brockwk@gvillesun.com or 374-5054.

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