This was an old fashioned, physical, grind it out slugfest between Anthony Grant’s Crimson Tide and Billy Donovan’s Gators that only the old school-iest of old school fans would love.
And Florida- yes, Florida- was the team putting on a show.
Gone are the days of Erik Murphy, Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker hitting threes from the midcourt logo. Gone are the days of Florida blowing teams out of the water with an explosive full court offense and a deadly transition game. But most important of all, gone are the days that Florida doesn’t know what to do with a small lead late in the game because they don’t have much experience in such situations.
Instead, what Billy Donovan is doing is running a mentally and physically tough basketball team that’s less than capable of crushing inferior teams but certainly capable- no, proficient- in grinding out the tough wins at the end of the game. And despite the much closer scores compared to previous years, that’s a sign that this team is better than the previous three Elite Eight teams, because to them, a 5 point lead with 3 minutes to go was like picking up a hot potato- they’d immediately chuck it away. To me, this type of experience will be what makes the difference between close E-8 losses to Butler and Louisville in 2011/2012 and a close win this time around.
Indeed, this appears to be the new norm for Florida, a blueprint that’s slowly making its mark in the minds of fans and players alike- we may not be as good points wise as we once were, but name the town and the arena, give us a tight game with four minutes to go with a healthy team, and… we GOT THIS. Last night was only the most recent example.
Florida didn’t play perfect basketball by any means. Michael Frazier (and really, the entire team) took too many shots before they could really run some offense. The itchy trigger finger epidemic led to a 23-61 night from the field, including 13-33 inside the three point arc… nothing to be proud of (and that makes the 10-28 stat line from beyond the three point line look good by comparison). Some of the misses were bad ones, too- Scottie Wilbekin had an easy layup, but instead lofted a sky-ball that never went near the basket, and Casey Prather missed one dunk and had another one partially blocked.
Luckily, Alabama doesn’t exactly boast an offensive juggernaut, either. The Tide shot a slightly-better-than-Florida 22-57 from the field, and turned it over seven times in key situations.
But time to give credit is due. Alabama’s offense isn’t great, and Florida’s defense is, so Bama’s pedestrian offensive numbers were likely due more to Florida’s suffocating defense that forced Bama guards Trevor Releford and Rodney Cooper to force bad shots and finish a combined 8-24 from the field. Scottie Wilbekin was once again the key, too. Alabama generated a pair of 6-0 runs while Wilbekin was taking breathers, but once he came back in, the Gators really clamped down and gave ’em hell (pun intended). Then there was the free throw shooting. It goes up and down like a seesaw, and last night, it was up. Florida went 12-18 from the line, a dead even 66.6 repeated percentage, which isn’t great, but it’s tolerable from a coaching standpoint.
At the end of the day, it was the latest in a long line of ugly wins, and it looks like that’s going to be this team’s MO- scrap and claw, and get the win, even if it’s really ugly. But hey, wins are wins, and they all count the same come Selection Sunday, no matter how ugly.