Alabama fades, falls 78-69 at No. 3 Florida
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)
For a half, Alabama did little wrong.
Coach Anthony Grant's team failed to sustain that success, fading in the second half and losing 78-69 to the Gators on Saturday.
''We handled the adversity,'' Grant said. ''We knew that there would be adversity at some point in the game, and we were challenging ourselves coming into the game to just stay focused. We knew that as explosive and as talented and as tough of a defensive team as Florida is, that we would have to overcome some things.''
The Tide overcame a 12-2 deficit early and even led 28-21 after Releford's 3-pointer late in the first half.
But Florida took over in the paint and in transition, which opened things up on the perimeter for Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II.
Wilbekin was 3-for-5 shooting from behind the arc, making all three in the second half. Frazier was 3 for 8 from the 3-point range.
Frazier finished with 14 points, joining Wilbekin (16), Casey Prather (15), Will Yeguete (12) and Patric Young (11) in double figures. It was the first time all five of Florida's starters topped 10 points since Nov. 21 against Middle Tennessee.
''We have a balanced team, and anyone can beat you on any given night,'' Prather said.
Releford led the Tide (9-14, 3-7 Southeastern Conference) with 25 points on 7-of-10 shooting. He made 4 of 6 from behind the 3-point line and was perfect on seven free throws.
Alabama shot 61 percent in the opening half and went 5 of 7 from behind the arc, giving the defensive-minded Gators (21-2, 10-0) plenty to talk about at halftime. They responded with an effective press, made 3-pointers and a heavy dose of post play that seemingly wore down the Tide.
''They're at their best when they're in transition,'' Grant said. ''From an offensive standpoint, they took us out of some things that we were able to get there in the first half.''
Florida went on a 25-8 run that turned a deficit into a double-digit lead. The Tide ended up losing its four straight and sixth in the last seven games.
''This program can't do anything but go up,'' Releford said. ''It's just a process. Right now we're losing a game, but I feel as a team we're getting better and coach is helping us with that.''
Alabama finished the game shooting 55 percent.
For as dominant as Florida has been recently, the team's toughest test comes next week. The Gators play at Tennessee on Tuesday night and then at No. 18 Kentucky on Saturday. Those games could go a long way to determining how Florida finishes in the conference and what kind of seed it gets in next month's NCAA tournament.
''I don't think we played great,'' Yeguete said. ''We got it done, but we didn't play great. We know we've got to do a better job if we want to win in Knoxville on Tuesday.''
The Tide lost to Florida for the second time in 16 days. Alabama returns to the court Tuesday night at home against Mississippi, hoping to snap the losing streak and turn things around.
''Like Coach says, `Keep fighting, keep fighting for what we want,''' Releford said.