Gators snap two-game skid

Florida's Walter Hodge looks for an open teammate around Alabama defender Senario Hillman during the second half at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Wednesday.

AARON DAYE/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 12:02 a.m.

Florida coach Billy Donovan wants to make one thing clear — Joakim Noah and Al Horford aren’t coming to the rescue anytime soon.

Neither are Corey Brewer, Taurean Green or Lee Humphrey.

The Gators snapped a two-game losing streak, muddling through an 83-74 win against Alabama on Wednesday night against O’Connell Center. Florida (20-6, 7-4 Southeastern Conference) reached 20 wins for the 11th consecutive season, overcoming a 40.3 percent shooting night from the floor.

“I think a lot of people have set the expectations based on two years ago,” Donovan said. “These guys are a different group of guys. They are trying hard. They are doing what we ask them to do. “

With Tennessee and South Carolina both losing Wednesday night, Florida moved into a four-way tie for first in the SEC East. Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee all take identical 7-4 league records into the stretch run.

Despite making just one field goal in the final 5:46, Florida won with clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch. Florida made its final nine attempts from the line to close out a game that had some precarious moments.

Alabama cut the Florida lead to 79-72 on a layup from freshman JaMychal Green with 1:21 remaining and had a chance to cut the lead again after a Nick Calathes turnover.

But Florida senior Walter Hodge took a charge from Alabama guard Senario Hillman with 40.6 seconds left. Freshman Erving Walker made four straight free throws in the final 40.6 seconds to close out the game.

“It’s a free shot,” said Walker, who came into the game shooting a team-best 83.9 percent from the line. “That’s the way I look at it.”

Calathes led Florida with 22 points and six assists. He also had five of Florida’s 11 steals. Sophomore Alex Tyus added 16 points, and freshman Kenny Kadji provided a lift off the bench with eight points, eight rebounds and two assists.

“We played tough,” Calathes said. “We had two good practices to motivate us. We had our backs against the wall for this game. We had to get the win.”

Florida started fast, jumping to a 19-7 lead behind the quick hands of Calathes. Calathes had three steals during the early run and put Florida ahead 19-7 with the first of his four 3-pointers.

The Gators took a 47-35 lead into halftime and kept Alabama from cutting the lead below five points the remainder of the game. The Gators also did a nice job on Alabama senior guard Alonzo Gee. Gee, who scored 32 points against Florida in the regular season last season, was held to 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting.

“We knew he was going to crash the glass,” said Florida sophomore forward Chandler Parsons. “We just tried to keep him away from the basket and change the direction of his shots.”

Calathes insisted fatigue wasn’t a factor late. Florida, playing essentially an eight-man rotation due to the injury of freshman forward Allan Chaney, missed its final seven attempts from the floor.

“They were good looks,” Calathes said. “Erving and Walter (Hodge) had some from the 3-point line. If we keep getting looks like that, they are eventually going to fall.”

After the game, Donovan said 20 wins “exceeded the expectations for this group.” It doesn’t get Florida to the NCAA Tournament yet, but there’s time. Florida will likely need to win three of its final five regular-season games to earn an NCAA bid.

“Obviously, it’s in the back of your mind, but we’re trying to keep the focus on each game,” Parsons said.

NOTES: Andrew DeClercq, a member of UF’s 1994 Final Four team, was among the 12,120 in attendance. ... Freshman forward Eloy Vargas appeared in his first game since Jan. 28 against Georgia. ... Hodge appeared in his 112th career win at Florida, tying him with Lee Humphrey and Chris Richard for the player with the most wins in UF history.

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