For Florida players and coaches, trying to explain the latest meltdown, a 68-50 loss to Alabama before 10,845 at the O’Connell Center, was a vexing task.
In the first half, the No. 23 Gators played an inspired 20 minutes of basketball, forcing 14 turnovers to take a 33-27 lead into the break.
Then came a second half in which all of UF’s flaws were exposed. The Gators were beaten up on the boards, allowed too many easy transition baskets and too many points in the paint. Combine that with shooting just 22.6 percent in the second half and it added up to Florida suffering its worst loss to Alabama since falling 83-63 on March 4, 1989.
Florida (15-8, 6-4 SEC) has now lost three of four, three straight conference games and two consecutive league home games. The Gators scored a season-low 50 points and appear to be regressing offensively after scoring 100 or more points in four of their first six games.
“If we don’t make wholesale changes we’re going to continue to have peaks and valleys,” Florida coach Mike White said. “We’re just going to be average.”
What changes can be made?
“We may need to even evaluate lineups, maybe evaluate what we do in practice,” White said. “But the defensive performance we gave in the second half is very discouraging to say the least.”
Florida grad transfer Egor Koulechov took it a step further, suggesting the reeling Gators are a team that needs to learn to trust one another again.
“We have to trust each other right now,” Koulechov said. “There’s a little bit there with that, but it’s all fixable. We tend to go down play a little hero ball sometimes, take some bad shots. It’s nothing we can’t fix. We just have to buy in, lock in better, keep working.”
Nothing worked in the final 20 minutes. Alabama made a quick 8-0 run to start the second half, taking a 35-33 lead on a steal and layup by redshirt sophomore guard Dazon Ingram. Then, after Koulechov tied the score at 43 with a bank shot with 11:56 left, Alabama took control of the game with an 11-0 run, fueled by a pair of baskets from freshman forward Herb Jones, a 3-pointer from Avery Johnson Jr., a driving layup by point guard Collin Sexton and an inside basket by Braxton Key.
Koulechov said the Gators deviated from the defensive gameplan in the second half.
“We don’t buy in to what we’re trying to do right now,” Koulechov said. “We had a good gameplan coming in, and we did pretty much everything the opposite way.”
Alabama (15-8, 6-4 SEC) shot 58.1 percent from the field in the second half and 55.8 percent from the field for the game.
“My team, when we’re playing with a lead and when we’re making shots, we defend at a different level,” White said. “There’s no excuse for that. We’re in February doing the same thing. It’s really unfortunate.”
Junior guard KeVaughn Allen led three UF scorers in double figures with 16 points, with redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone adding 12 points and Koulechov scoring 11 points.
White went with a smaller lineup to start the game, going with Stone at center and four guards — Allen, Koulechov, point guard Chris Chiozza and junior guard Jalen Hudson.
“Coming off a game in which we struggled to score (at Georgia), I think the ultimate decision was to try to play our best offensive lineup,” White said.
The strategy worked early as the Gators scrapped defensively with the smaller lineup as well. Chiozza had four of UF’s eight steals in the first half, and the Gators scored 15 points off 14 turnovers in the first half.
Eventually, though, Alabama wore UF down with its size, strength and length. The Tide outrebounded Florida 43-25 and scored 14 second-chance points off 11 offensive rebounds. Alabama outscored Florida 46-26 in the paint, with center Donta Hall and Key combining for five dunks.
Sexton led four Alabama scorers in double figures with 17 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Sexton got the best of his matchup with Chiozza, who had 4 points on 2 of 9 shooting with 4 assists and 4 steals.
Hall added a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, going 7 of 7 from the floor, while Key had 13 points.
Alabama (15-8, 6-4 SEC) bounced back from a loss earlier in the week at home to Missouri with its inspired second half. After committing 14 turnovers in the first half, the Tide had just five in the second half. Alabama also outscored UF 29-1 in bench points.
“Ball movement in the second half was incredible,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said after the Tide’s fourth straight win over a ranked opponent.
“Our bench did an amazing job. So I’m awfully proud of our guys.”
|ALABAMA 68, No. 23 FLORIDA 50|
Hall 7-7 0-0 14, Giddens 0-2 0-0 0, Sexton 7-15 1-2 17, Petty 0-2 0-0 0, Ingram 4-7 0-3 8, Key 5-7 2-2 13, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Jones 2-4 2-2 6, A.Johnson 4-8 1-3 10. Totals 29-52 6-12 68.
Stone 4-9 3-4 12, Chiozza 2-9 0-1 4, Koulechov 5-10 0-0 11, Allen 5-12 3-3 16, Hudson 3-10 0-0 6, Bassett 0-0 0-0 0, Hayes 0-2 0-1 0, Gak 0-0 0-0 0, Ballard 0-2 0-0 0, Okauru 0-3 1-2 1. Totals 19-57 7-11 50.
Halftime_Florida 33-27. 3-Point Goals_Alabama 4-13 (Sexton 2-5, A.Johnson 1-2, Key 1-3, Ingram 0-1, Petty 0-2), Florida 5-24 (Allen 3-7, Stone 1-3, Koulechov 1-4, Ballard 0-1, Okauru 0-2, Chiozza 0-3, Hudson 0-4). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Alabama 37 (Hall 11), Florida 24 (Hayes, Stone 5). Assists_Alabama 12 (Sexton 6), Florida 9 (Chiozza 4). Total Fouls_Alabama 12, Florida 13. A_10,845 (10,133).