Florida rallies past Tide for share of SEC title
Published: Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 2:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 6:51 p.m.
The talk heading into Florida's critical Southeastern Conference showdown with Alabama was the Gators getting back to full strength.
Who: Vanderbilt at Florida
When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.
Where: Stephen C. O'Connell Center
Gainesville-area TV: WJXT (Cox Ch. 19)
Gainesville-area radio: 103.7 FM
But with Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II still limited in effectiveness coming off injuries, the teetering Gators needed someone else to step up Saturday.
Florida junior Casey Prather provided that lift in crunch time. Behind 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench from the 6-foot-6 forward, the No. 8 Gators rallied from down eight points in the second half to beat Alabama 64-52 before a crowd of 11,624 at the O'Connell Center.
Florida (23-5, 13-3 SEC) clinched a share of the conference title and moved a step closer to its fourth outright regular-season league title in school history. The Gators can clinch that title with a win against Vanderbilt on Wednesday.
“We want to win the championship and we want to be the only ones holding that trophy by ourselves,” Florida junior center Patric Young said.
But for 28 minutes, Florida didn't seem urgent about seizing the moment. Up just 29-26 at halftime, the Gators floundered early in the second half, falling behind 45-37 during a stretch that included ill-advised shots and passes that wound up in the first row of the bleachers.
“We were beating ourselves,” Florida senior guard Kenny Boynton said. “Not rebounding and crazy turnovers. We just had to settle down, get stops and basically finish on offense.”
But momentum changed when Prather stepped on the floor. From out of control, the Gators transformed into a team in control. From a team that couldn't control the glass, the Gators transformed to a team that limited the Tide to just one shot.
The Gators went on a 19-2 run, with Prather scoring eight points during the flurry.
“He was the only guy to me that had a level of energy,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “Our team picked it up with about eight minutes to go, but in terms of even in the first half and the second half, he had good energy.”
Subbing in Prather for 6-foot-3 guard Mike Rosario, Florida went bigger across the frontline to match Alabama's physical front. Alabama still managed more second-chance points than the Gators (14-12), but Florida outrebounded Alabama 33-31.
Still wearing a bandage over his left eye after taking a gash to the forehead against Tennessee, Prather mixed it up inside against Alabama's frontcourt.
“Coach just let me play,” Prather said. “I was just trying to be aggressive and help the team any way I could.”
Yeguete and Frazier couldn't provide the same spark. Frazier, battling back spasms in practice, missed a pair of free throws in the first half and had no points and one turnover in six minutes. In 11 minutes off the bench, Yeguete had just one rebound and one turnover.
“He hasn't been out there, so getting back into the flow of the game is going to be a little tough,” Young said. “Hopefully we can have him back at 100 percent soon.”
Erik Murphy led four Florida scorers in double figures with 15 points. Boynton added 13 points, and Scottie Wilbekin had 11. But Donovan was upset with Florida's lack of ball movement. The Gators finished with seven assists to 10 turnovers.
“We are not a good team unless you start to see our basketball team between 17 and 24 assists,” Donovan said. “We don't have players who can make plays on their own. They are not capable of doing that. They need to rely on and utilize each other.”
It didn't help that the Gators suffered another off shooting day. Florida was just 2 of 13 from 3-point range, a season-low 15.4 percent. Coming off a 4-for-17 3-point shooting game against Tennessee, the Gators are just 6 of their last 30 from beyond the arc.
But the Gators made up for their lack of perimeter production by pounding the ball inside and drawing fouls. Florida went to the free-throw line 26 times, making 22. The Gators were a perfect 13 of 13 from the line in the second half.
“We did a great job attacking the rim as a team,” Boynton said. “Post touches, throwing it in to Pat and Murph, they did well finishing in the second half. It wasn't our best shooting night, but we got fast breaks and finished free throws.”
Alabama (19-10, 11-5 SEC) was done in by another long scoring drought. From the 12-minute to 3-minute mark of the second half, the Crimson Tide scored just two points. Wilbekin did a good job defensively on Trevor Releford, holding the Alabama junior point guard to 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Releford had been averaging 24.8 points over his previous three games.
The loss dropped Alabama coach Anthony Grant to 0-5 against his mentor. Grant worked 12 seasons as an assistant under Donovan (1994-2006) at Marshall and UF.
“It's always going to be a 40-minute game,” Grant said. “We wanted to stay the course, not play too fast or too slow, and that helped us to get the lead. But a team as good as Florida will know how to respond to that.”
NOTES: With 13 points, Boynton passed Andrew Moten (1,930 points) for second on UF's all-time scoring list. Boynton is at 1,940 points, still 150 shy of school record-holder Ronnie Williams (2,090 points). … Former Gator point guard Jason Williams and former UF forward Chris Richard sat courtside during the game. … The Gators improved to 14-0 at home this season, and can finish the season unbeaten at home with a win Wednesday against Vanderbilt.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or email@example.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.