Before a road-heavy stretch to finish up SEC play, Florida will try to take care of slumping Alabama with some help from its newest addition to the roster, highly touted freshman Chris Walker.
The third-ranked Gators will seek to extend their school-record home win streak to 29 and earn a 15th consecutive victory Saturday by sending the Crimson Tide to a season-high fourth straight defeat.
Florida (20-2, 9-0) has a two-game lead over Kentucky in the SEC but will play five of its final eight games on the road, including a visit to the No. 18 Wildcats next Saturday. The Gators could get some help during that stretch from Walker, who made his collegiate debut in a 68-58 win over Missouri on Tuesday.
The 6-foot-10 Walker had two dunks, two rebounds and two blocks in seven minutes. He had to sit out 12 games because the NCAA ruled he received "preferential treatment," and he also failed to qualify academically before taking online classes in the fall to gain his eligibility.
"I’m just so glad to have it behind me," Walker said. "My coaches and teammates have been behind me. … All I want to do is play my role and do anything I can to help the team win."
Scottie Wilbekin had a career-high 19 points and Michael Frazier II hit four 3-pointers in the second half while finishing with 14. The Gators set a school mark with their 14th consecutive home victory in league play and added to their longest overall win streak in six seasons.
Florida has won at least 15 games in a row four times, and it will try to reach that mark again by earning a 10th straight home victory over Alabama (9-13, 3-6) and ninth in a row overall. The Gators are 20-5 in the series in coach Billy Donovan’s tenure and their most recent home loss to the Tide came two seasons before he arrived in Gainesville, a 69-66 defeat Feb. 25, 1995.
Frazier scored 18 points and hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Gators a double-digit cushion midway through the second half in a 68-62 win at Alabama on Jan. 23.
Florida shot 37.7 percent but went 10 of 28 from 3-point range while Alabama was 2 of 12. The Crimson Tide shot 38.6 percent as coach Anthony Grant dropped to 0-7 against his former mentor.
Grant was an assistant/associate coach in Donovan’s first 10 seasons at Florida. He’s now on the verge of matching the longest losing streak in his five-season tenure at Alabama.
Since an 82-80 win over LSU on Jan. 25, Alabama has failed to surpass 59 points in three straight games. It’s shot a combined 36.8 percent in those losses and gone 10 of 48 (20.8 percent) from 3-point range.
The Tide shot 35.6 percent and went 4 of 17 from beyond the arc in a 65-58 loss at Arkansas on Wednesday. Rodney Cooper had a season-high 22 points and 10 rebounds while leading scorer Trevor Releford (18.0 ppg) was the only other player to score in double figures with 12.
Alabama has lost nine straight on the road since a 52-45 win over Georgia on Feb. 12. It’s dropped 15 in a row to ranked teams and has lost the last 14 such matchups on the road since a 77-73 win over No. 4 Mississippi State on Feb. 21, 2004.