Quick order of business: I’d like to give a huge welcome back to Atlanta Gator! He was one of the original members of IAKOW (there were ~six of them) back when Ryan launched it on the final day of 2010, and when that version of IAKOW went down in May of 2012… well, I haven’t heard from him since. So it’s a big deal for me to see him back here. He’s good people, and I think everybody else will enjoy having him as a regular commentator.
Anyway, onto the game recap.
I’m still a little surprised by the fact that I’m writing this Alabama game recap in a vein similar to the Missouri game after Florida jumped out to a 12-2 lead, but, hey, that’s the way things go in Gatorland these days.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, because this Florida-Alabama game ended just like the seven preceding it- a Florida celebration and plenty of Alabama frustration.
Alabama hasn’t beaten Florida in basketball since Alonzo Gee and Mykal Riley each went off on the Gators in the SEC Tournament in March of 2008. And despite Trevor Releford dwarfing his season average of 18 points per game with a 25 point outing, and despite Alabama playing this game like its personal national championship game, that trend continued today in Gainesville.
That’s not to say Florida’s 29th straight home win was easy. No win over an Anthony Grant coached team is easy.
The first half was pretty much what we’ve come to expect from Florida. Actually, it was exactly what we’ve come to expect: some good things, some bad, but not enough of either for one team to have some clear momentum at halftime. After flying high in a ridiculously lopsided first three and a half minutes (the 12-2 run), the Gators suddenly stalled in the rarefied air as Releford led Bama back into it with eight points in less than three minutes to cut the lead to 16-12. Florida recovered on its next offensive possession, finding Will Yeguette open for a nifty layup to push the lead up to six. But then the Gators totally collapsed, as Alabama launched a 16-3 run that stunned the Rowdy Reptiles into silence. Down seven at that point, the Gators rallied to tie it up at 36 at the half.
Part of the reason Alabama had 36 points at halftime (most allowed by Florida at home all year) was because they shot an insane 5-7 from three point territory (leagues above their season average). Also, Florida couldn’t match the frenetic pace at which Alabama scored after the initial 12-2 run, which gave the Tide confidence to keep hoisting up more threes, which, no matter from how far away, kept falling through.
But like gravity, what goes up must come down. As expected by every basketball fan with a somewhat reasonable head on their shoulders, Alabama came plummeting back to earth in the latter 20 minutes. The second half triggered a rather different set of observations. The list:
- Chris Walker, while extremely talented, has a lot of learning to do in terms of positioning himself on offense.
- Scottie Wilbekin (several times during the second half) proved that he is among the best in the nation at making plays to stop runs by the other team.
- Kasey Hill and Wilbekin are serious threats to take the ball coast to coast and finish in transition if you commit live ball turnovers.
- Florida may have problems with some zone defenses, but if Michael Frazier hits some shots from outside (like he did today), the game’s over, because that forces the opponent to play man, which plays right into Florida’s strength.
- Alabama is a tough team, but Florida’s not only more naturally talented like everybody knows they are, they’re tougher, too.
Combine those last four, and the first part of the first one, and that’s how Florida pulled away. Alabama had to respect Walker’s presence down low, and after Wilbekin and Frazier hit three threes to open the second half, the game was over. Sure, there were still 15 minutes left in the game, and Florida only led by nine at that point. But those threes forced Alabama to respect the outside shot, and Florida started to use the paint more in their offense, either with Wilbekin on the drive or by feeding Walker and Prather for easy dunks and layups. The last 15 minutes of the game consisted of Florida leads spanning from 6-15 points, and never closer than 8 in the last 11 minutes, so there was really little, if any concern among Gator fans down the stretch.
Generally speaking, once a team gets going from outside, that completely plays out of what Alabama wants to do defensively, and they’re in big trouble. When a team like Florida gets going from outside, Alabama’s essentially helpless; if they man up on Florida’s guards, they’re going to get burned for easy buckets, and if they continue to play zone, well, they’re going to continue to get burned by hot-shooting Michael Frazier/Scottie Wilbekin. It’s a lose-lose situation, and… Alabama lost.
But before you mock Alabama with stuff like “Billy Donovan is like the moon; he controls the Tide”, “Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer Go To Hell Alabama”, “Roll Tide Roll, around the bowl and down the hole”, “You play other sports not named football?” or whatever other insults I’ve seen on twitter directed at Alabama, take a moment to appreciate how hard the Tidesmen fought today. They know they have no shot in hell at making the NCAA Tournament without winning the SEC Tournament, and they weren’t playing in the latter today. So basically, this game had no meaning to them, at least on paper: a win wouldn’t be enough to get them even sniffing an at large ticket to the Dance (not at 10-13), and a loss would just make them 9-14, several light years plus one more game away from even getting a scent of March Madness. Yet Alabama made Florida fans sweat for quite some time today. Of course, they didn’t pull off the gargantuan upset because unlike last year, the Gators know what they’re doing late in close games.
Go ahead, now, and alter Alabama’s chants or otherwise mock them all you want. I know many Florida fans hate Alabama and want to get it off their chests, and I certainly am one of them. I don’t really hate the students, but I can’t stand the folks who jumped on the bandwagon in 2009, live nowhere near Tuscaloosa, only care about football, and who give me the deer-in-headlight look when I ask them who Tyrone Prothro is. That’s actually a great litmus test to see if you’ve got a real Alabama fan (again, not affiliated with the school- you attend classes there, you sleep in their dorms/apartments, you’re good in my book).
So, roll on home, Tide. Good try, but good bye.