Balanced effort helps Gators keep streak alive
Published: Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 2:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 6:06 p.m.
On an afternoon when Florida brought its C-game defensively, the No. 3 Gators needed to compensate on the offensive end of the floor Saturday against Alabama.
No.3 Florida (21-2, 10-0 SEC) at Tennessee (15-8, 6-4)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday
With some stellar ball movement and scoring balance, Florida made enough unselfish plays to hold off the pesky Crimson Tide at the O'Connell Center. Florida's 78-69 win over Alabama had its share of shaky first-half moments, but the Gators (21-2, 10-0 SEC) regrouped in time to extend their winning streak to 15 straight overall and 29 straight at home.
Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin led all five starters in double figures with 16 points and three assists. Senior forward Casey Prather added 15 points, sophomore guard Michael Frazier II had 14 points and senior forward Will Yeguete matched a season-high, scoring all 12 of his points in the first half. Senior center Patric Young added 11 points, two rebounds and two blocked shots.
Florida dished a season-high 22 assists, the Gators' most in a game since getting 25 on Feb. 6, 2013 at Auburn.
“I didn't know we had 22 assists,” Yeguete said. “That's good to hear that we're moving in the right direction, moving the basketball around.”
Florida coach Billy Donovan was more concerned about UF's defensive lapses. Florida allowed Alabama to shoot 60.9 percent from the field in the first half and 55 percent from the field for the game.
“It's an everyday grind to be really good (defensively),” Donovan said. “Thank God we had some offense today that helped us.”
Alabama (9-14, 3-7 SEC) came into the game 11th in the SEC in scoring at 68.8 points per game.
“That's not our defense at all,” Young said. “We gave too many easy baskets and let them score too many points.”
It looked easy for the Gators early. Florida jumped to a 12-2 lead, as all five of UF's starters combined to start the game 6-of-6 from the floor. The Gators forced four early turnovers with their press, leading to six quick points.
But as Alabama switched to zone, Florida's offense hit another stagnant stretch. With Florida up 20-12, Alabama went on a 10-0 run during a 6:21 UF scoreless stretch.
“We turned the ball over, we made some really, really poor decisions in open-floor situations, we tried to interior pass,” Donovan said. “We allowed them to capitalize on some of our turnovers coming the other way.”
The Gators allowed Alabama senior point guard Trevor Releford to break free for open looks. Releford scored 16 of his game-high 25 points in the first half, going 6-of-8 from the floor and 3-of-5 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes.
“For the 3s, we lost him,” Wilbekin said of Releford. “And he capitalized.”
But Florida closed the first half strong, scoring on 9 of its last 10 possessions to tie the game at 36 at halftime. Yeguete found holes in Alabama's zone defense, scoring UF's last six points of the half on open layups underneath the basket.
“We just really tried to find the right gap and move the ball,” Yeguete said. “We did a decent job moving the ball today. I was wide open in the first half a couple of times and they found me.”
In the second half, Florida returned to its pressure defense, with strong results. Frazier and Yeguete had back-to-back steals on the press, with Frazier's breakaway layup extending UF's lead to 64-49. Florida finished the game with 27 points off 16 Alabama turnovers.
Florida also heated up from the perimeter after another slow shooting start. After going 1-of-5 from 3-point range in the first half, the Gators went 5-of-12 in the second half to finish 6-of-17 (35.3 percent) for the game.
“We just moved the ball around a little bit better and made some shots,” Wilbekin said.
At 21-2, Florida is now off to its second-best start in school history, behind just the 2006-07 national championship team (24-2). But the Gators sounded far from a complacent bunch after finishing off their three-game homestand with their first single-digit win since Jan. 23 at Alabama. Florida begins a stretch of four road games in its next five games on Tuesday night at Tennessee.
“We got it done, but we didn't play great,” Yeguete said. “We know we've got to do a better job if we want to win in Knoxville.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.