Gators top Tide for 10th straight win
Published: Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 8:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 8:51 p.m.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was a festive mood in the locker room shortly after Florida's 68-62 win over Alabama at Coleman Coliseum.
Loud cheers could be heard from behind the doors after Florida coach Billy Donovan invited a 12-year-old Gator fan and cancer patient named Cooper behind the closed doors to celebrate UF's 10th straight win.
“He's undergoing surgery tomorrow,” Florida senior Casey Prather said. “He came in and did a dance for us a little bit. We had a great time in there.”
More reason to rejoice, it was the 100th career win for Florida seniors Patric Young, Will Yeguete, Scottie Wilbekin and Prather. The No. 6 Gators (16-2, 5-0 SEC) have gotten different contributions from all four of them throughout the season.
“It's a great accomplishment,” Prather said. “It humbles us knowing that we have so far to go, but we have come so far since our freshman year. We're just going to enjoy this win tonight.”
The win didn't come easy. Alabama (8-10, 2-3 SEC) played zone most of the game, daring Florida to shoot over it. But after making 4 of their first 14 3-point attempts, the Gators found their stroke as the game progressed. Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II scored a team-high 18 points, going 5 of 13 from beyond the arc. After missing his first three 3-point attempts, Frazier, the SEC's leading 3-point shooter at 46.3 percent, made 5 of his next 10.
Like the Georgia game, Frazier said his teammates prodded him to keep shooting.
"Sometimes I need them to tell me to keep shooting because I'll start doubting myself," Frazier said. "They did a good job of staying positive for me."
Frazier converted a four-point play with 4.3 seconds left in the first half to put Florida up 33-26 at halftime. In the second half, the 6-foot-4 guard from Tampa hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put Florida up 53-43.
"Those 3s hurt our momentum," Alabama senior point guard Trevor Releford said. "Give credit to Florida. We just gave Frazier his confidence, and when you give a shooter like him confidence, he just kept letting it go."
Florida extended its lead to 55-43 with 8:57 left in the second half when a steal by Young led to a breakaway layup from freshman point guard Kasey Hall. Alabama cut UF's lead to 62-57 with 1:07 remaining on a pair of free throws by Levi Randolph. But Florida made 6 of its last 8 free throws to close out the game.
Prather added 14 points and has reached double figures in all 15 games he's appeared in this season. Wilbekin finished with 10 points and four assists, including a pair of clutch free throws with 26 seconds left to ice the game.
Shortly after the game, Donovan felt good about the accomplishment of his seniors.
“For me, more than anything else, it's just (enjoying) the growth and development they've made over their three-plus years now, going on four,” Donovan said. “Watching where Patric Young was his freshman year, where Prather was, Yeguete, even Scottie Wilbekin leaving high school early. Those guys have been through the wars, they've been scarred, they've been wounded, they've achieved a lot of great things.”
On the flip side, Donovan felt less enthusiastic about improving his record to 7-0 against Anthony Grant, one of his closest friends in coaching. Grant served as Donovan's assistant for 12 years from 1994-2006 at Marshall and UF.
“The one thing I respect about him is that there is nothing competitively that's going to get in the way of our relationship,” Donovan said. “Neither one of us is going to let that happen. We're both going to compete as hard as we can, but at the end of the day, the relationship established over a 20-year period is something that's meaningful to both of us.”
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