Gators grind out tough win over Alabama to stay unblemished in SEC
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For a team led by four seniors who have been through the college basketball grinder, it was only fitting their 100th victory together was — well, sophomore guard Michael Frazier put it best:
"A grind," he said.
Such is often the case when facing Alabama, with its tough-nosed defense and methodical offense — and especially at Coleman Coliseum, where the Crimson Tide had lost only two Southeastern Conference games since 2010 and carried the league’s longest home winning streak at 14 games before Thursday night.
But the sixth-ranked Florida Gators had a streak of their own. Nine straight wins coming in.
Make it 10.
Sophomore guard Michael Frazier, thoroughly frustrated during a scoreless game 130 miles to the east at Auburn last weekend, snapped out of his mini-slump with five 3-pointers, scoring a team-high 18 points and leading the Gators to a 68-62 victory over the Crimson Tide. The Gators collected their third straight league win on the road and stayed unbeaten in SEC play.
Frazier bounced his first two shots from arc but finished the night 5 for 13 out there, making half of UF’s 10 3-pointers. That difference in makes from distance — Alabama went 2 for 12 — provided the Gators (16-2, 5-0) with a cushion throughout a game they never trailed.
"We didn’t shoot an off-the-chart percentage," Florida coach Billy Donovan said of his team’s 10 for 28 display (35.7 percent) from long range. "But we did make 10, and that helped us against their zone."
Senior forward Casey Prather, back in the starting lineup after dealing with a knee bruise, scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds. Senior guard Scottie Wilbekin chipped in 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Senior forward Will Yeguete and sophomore backup forward/center Dorian Finney-Smith each tallied 11 rebounds, together accounting for half the team’s 44 on a night when both sides missed a bunch of shots. Finney-Smith had seven on the offensive glass.
For Prather, Yeguete, Wilbekin and center Patric Young — the rookie class of 2010 — the victory was their 100th during their four-year careers. They definitely earned it. The hard way.
"It’s a great accomplishment," Prather said. "It’s humbling knowing that we have so far to go, yet have come so far since our freshman year. We’re going to enjoy this one."
They should, but frankly the basketball on display probably didn’t make for great entertainment for the 11,892 inside Coleman. The two teams combined to shoot 38 percent overall — only 30 percent from the 3-point line — and both missed a handful of easy shots.
With a bit less than four minutes to go in the first half, Florida led 22-19 and had made only eight of its 28 field-goal tries, mostly against a zone defense against which the Gators were getting some looks.
Just not hitting.
"My coaches and teammates told me to keep on shooting," Frazier said. "That’s what I did."
Frazier hit his second 3-pointer of the half at the 2:15 mark, Prather spun his way to a couple baskets in the paint, and Frazier ended the half not with just another trey, but a 3-pointer from the corner, a foul and free throw with 4.6 seconds left to send Florida to the locker room up by seven.
And with the momentum.
"Those 3s hurt," said Alabama guard Trevor Releford, who led the Tide with 14 points and four assists in playing the entire 40 minutes, doing so without his backcourt sidekick and No. 2 scorer Retin Obasohan (hip flexor). "They were momentum plays for Florida and gave Frazier his confidence. When you give a shooter like him confidence, he’s just letting it go."
That’s exactly what he did.
Frazier’s back-to-back 3s midway into the second half stretched the Gators’ lead to 10. It eventually swelled to 12, but Alabama (8-10, 2-3) didn’t quit. The Tide used a late six-point run to get the home crowd interested, but Florida hit six of eight free throws over the final 47 seconds to stave off any hope of a rally.
Instead, it was Florida’s eighth win in 10 games this season decided by single digits. For those who have forgotten (and the reminders are pretty regular), the Gators were 0-6 in such games last season.
"We found a way to get stops when we needed them and move the ball and get some good shots," Frazier said. "Even though the ball wasn’t going in, we were able to get good looks. What else can you do?"
Just that. Play on, grind on, and do what it takes to win.
The Gators are getting pretty good at it.