Crimson Tide push Gators to the limit

Alabama coach Anthony Grant talks to his team in a huddle during the Crimson Tide's road game at Florida on Saturday. The Gators defeated Alabama, 78-69.

Matt Stamey / Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 6:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 6:13 p.m.

In a tough, hostile road environment, against the nation's No. 3 team, Anthony Grant saw his beleaguered Alabama team play the way he knows it can play. The way he expects it to.

It was another loss, but maybe this was a glimpse of the future, a hint at what this Crimson Tide team can eventually become.

The Tide pushed Florida to the limit Saturday. Alabama overcame a disastrous opening few minutes to lead by seven points late in the first half, and rallied again in the second half to draw within seven with more than two minutes to play.

But, in the end, Alabama did not have quite enough energy — or offense — to pull off the upset, falling to the Gators 78-69. For Alabama (9-14 overall, 3-7 in the SEC), it was the sixth loss in seven games.

But this loss feels a little different than the others. The Tide played pretty much dead-even with the Gators for most of the day.

“I saw that the whole game,” Grant said. “Florida is a good team. They're ranked third in the country for a reason. I thought our guys battled for 40 minutes. We just didn't have enough to get the win. That's not how we're judging ourselves at this stage.

“There's no quit in me. There is no quit in our guys. Every day, our motto is to go and get better. I think we did that today. We got better. It's not the end result we want, but we know who we can become. We're going to keep working toward becoming what we want to become.”

The Tide, whose scoring woes this season have been well-chronicled, looked like a pretty complete and efficient team for most of the day, especially after rallying from an early 10-point deficit to take a seven-point lead, 28-21, with a little less than six minutes left in the first half.

UF answered with a rally of its own to tie the game 36-all at the half.

In the first half, guard Trevor Releford hit three of his five 3-point attempts and scored 16 points. The Tide also frustrated the Gators with a tenacious defense that forced seven turnovers and produced three blocked shots and four steals. Releford finished with a game-high 25 points.

“Our team came out and responded (after the early adversity). Everyone stepped up,” Releford said. “Florida is a good team. I think our team played good together the entire game. Florida just made more plays.

“Like coach said, we've got to keep fighting, keep fighting for what we want. It's a process. Right now, we're losing games, but I feel the team is getting better and Coach Grant is helping us do that.

“There is no quit in him. There is no quit in us. If we just keep listening to what he has to say. We're going to get better. We have to stay positive. If we quit now, it's going to get ugly. But we're not going to quit.”

Florida's SEC-leading defense set the tone in the second half, turning over the Tide nine times, with many of those turnovers leading to easy points on the other end.

The Gators opened a 15-point lead, 64-49, on a steal and layup by guard Michael Frazier II with 8:30 play.

But, as they did earlier in the game, the Tide handled the tough situation and made it a game coming down the stretch, cutting the deficit to seven twice in the final three minutes.

“Some things Florida did defensively translated into transition opportunities for them in the second half,” Grant said. “They really hurt us in transition. We were able to battle, but the deficit we had, we just couldn't overcome it.

“We gave a good fight. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough to come out with the win. All I can ask our guys is to fight and give us the effort. I thought we had that today.”

Grant is now 0-8 against his former boss, Florida coach Billy Donovan.

Grant's team impressed Donovan on Saturday.

“Their scheme, how they attacked us, was really good,” Donovan said. “Anthony and his staff did a tremendous job. What I admire about Alabama is they have the second-toughest schedule in the country and two guys that are really good (Devonta Pollard and Trevor Lacey) are no longer there.

“Those Alabama kids battle and fight every game. They had Arkansas the other night. Their players today stepped up and really played very, very well today. Their whole team, from top to bottom.”

Releford said Saturday's performance is an indication of how good the Tide can become over the remaining part of the SEC schedule.

“We got to keep pushing,” he said. “We can play with anybody. We've got to have that confidence and believe in ourselves and do it every night.”

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