Seniors set for title tilt


Florida seniors Chandler Parsons, left, and Vernon Macklin celebrate an overtime win at Tennessee on Jan. 11. Parsons, Macklin and Alex Tyus will be honored tonight vs. Alabama. (The Associated Press)

Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 28, 2011 at 11:58 p.m.

Florida seniors Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons could not have envisioned this three years ago when they were locked out of the practice facility as freshmen.

Facts

Today's game

Who:Alabama Crimson Tide (19-9. 11-3 SEC) at No. 14 Florida Gators (22-6, 11-3 SEC)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center, Gainesville
TV: ESPNU
Radio: 103.7 FM, AM-850

At that point, the NIT-bound Gators were far from a championship team.

Fast-forward three years and Tyus and Parsons will play for the Southeastern Conference championship when No. 14 Florida hosts Alabama tonight at 7.

The SEC East-leading Gators can clinch at least a share of the league title with a win over the SEC West champion Crimson Tide.




“It flew by really fast but, you know what I'm excited to get out there, I'm excited to play there,” Parsons said. “Just what's at stake I couldn't ask for a better ending.”

Parsons and Tyus will be honored in pregame ceremonies on Senior Night along with senior center Vernon Macklin and Adam Allen, a redshirt junior guard. Allen, who has missed the last three seasons with knee injuries, said Monday he will not return for his final season of eligibility. It will be the final game in the O'Connell Center for all four players.

Parsons, Tyus and Allen were part of the 2007 Florida recruiting class that was ranked No. 1 in the country. It included McDonald's All-American guards Nick Calathes and Jai Lucas, who both left the program. Lucas transferred to Texas before the start of his sophomore season, while Calathes left after his sophomore season to pursue a pro career in Greece.

Tyus and Parsons stuck it out through some growing pains. As freshmen, Tyus and Parsons were part of a Florida team that got off to an 18-3 start. But the Gators won just three of their next 11 games, ending Florida's string of nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

“When they came in there after those two national championships, there was no doubt in their minds that they were cruising right to the same thing and it was just very, very immature,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “And it wasn't their fault. There was no one there to show them.”

Donovan blamed himself for not having enough veterans to surround the 2007 freshman class after Florida lost its top six players from its national championship team.

“They came in as freshmen and really got put into a very difficult situation, but I give them credit because they were resilient and they did battle and they did fight and they did try to figure things out,” Donovan said. “They could have felt sorry for themselves. They could have left and gone someplace else and their battling and hard work has helped them improve because where they are today to where they were two years ago was really two totally different ends of the spectrum.”

After missing the NCAA Tournament again as sophomores, Tyus and Parsons finally helped Florida break though as juniors. The 6-foot-10 Macklin arrived as a transfer from Georgetown, adding needed size and strength to Florida's front court.

With Macklin, Tyus and Parsons up front, Florida hopes to challenge an equally strong Alabama front line. Alabama's top two scorers are center JaMychal Green (16.1 ppg) and forward Tony Mitchell (15.7 ppg).

“I don't think there's a better way to go out,” Macklin said. “Being seniors and being able to play against a great team like Alabama, we've both got the same (SEC) record ... We're playing for a title.”

Another subplot is the second matchup between Donovan and Alabama coach Anthony Grant, a former UF assistant. Both are considered candidates to win league coach of the year. Donovan won his first meeting against Grant when Florida beat Alabama 66-65 last season on a last-second shot from point guard Erving Walker.

“He knows me very, very well and I know him very, very well,” Donovan said. “But, ultimately, both teams are going to go out there and we're both going to have to play.”

This time around, points could be harder to come by for the Gators. Alabama ranks first in the SEC in scoring defense (58.2 ppg), field goal percentage defense (37.3 percent) and steals (9.6 spg).

“They are number one in the league in steals and they do a great job with their hands,” Donovan said. “I think our ability to be strong with the ball is going to be really important in the game. They really don't give up a lot of easy baskets.”

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS

G, Kenny Boynton, 6-2, So., 13.5 ppg, 2.4 apg

G, Erving Walker, 5-8, Jr., 14.6 ppg, 3.2 apg

F, Chandler Parsons, 6-10, Sr., 11.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg

F, Alex Tyus, 6-8, Sr., 8.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg

C, Vernon Macklin, 6-10, Sr., 11.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg

KEY RESERVES

F, Patric Young, 6-8, Fr., 3.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg

G, Scottie Wilbekin, 6-10, Sr., 2.4 ppg, 1.8 apg

F, Erik Murphy, 6-10, So., 4.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg

ALABAMA PROBABLE STARTERS

G, Charvez Davis, 6-3, Sr., 7.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg

G, Trevor Relaford, 6-3, Fr., 10.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg

F, Tony Mitchell, 6-7, So., 15.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg

F, Chris Hines, 6-8, Sr., 5.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg

F, JaMychal Green, 6-8, Jr., 16.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg

KEY RESERVES

G, Senario Hillman, 6-2, Sr., 6.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg

G, Andrew Steele, 6-4, So., 4.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg

F, Charles Hankerson, 6-5, Fr., 2.5 ppg, 1.3 rpg

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Senior emotions

After an emotional pregame ceremony, can Florida seniors Alex Tyus, Vernon Macklin and Chandler Parsons focus back in and put together strong performances against Alabama? Macklin and Tyus will face tough matchups with Alabama forwards JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. "We just have to remember that we have a championship to win," Tyus said.

2. Crashing the boards

While Alabama has been one of the top defensive teams this season, the Tide have been only mediocre on the boards, with a rebounding margin of plus-3.8. Florida, meanwhile, is the top rebounding team in the SEC with a margin of plus-6.1. The Gators scored only one second-chance point in its 76-68 loss Saturday at No. 22 Kentucky. The Gators will need to do a better job than that against a physical Alabama front line.

3. Taking care of the ball

Alabama forces 16.1 turnovers per game and leads the SEC in steals (9.2 spg). Florida can't afford to get careless with the ball on Tuesday night. The Tide are capable of converting those mistakes into easy baskets in transition. Erving Walker, Chandler Parsons and Kenny Boynton will need to have strong games handling the basketball. Freshman 17-year-old point guard Scottie Wilbekin could help ease some of the burden if he can provide quality minutes off the bench.

THREE QUESTIONS

1. How will Florida's seniors respond to the emotion of Senior Night with a share of an SEC title at stake?

2. Can Florida do a better job on the offensive boards than it did Saturday at Kentucky?

3. How well can Florida's primary ball-handlers take care of a ball against an Alabama team that leads the SEC in steals?

Go to Gatorsports.com after the game to read Kevin Brockway's answers.

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