Gators ready to roll vs. Tide in SEC tournament

Florida didn’t create much momentum for itself heading into the Southeastern Conference tournament.

The 22nd-ranked Gators will try to turn things around when they take on Alabama in the quarterfinals at New Orleans Arena on Friday.

Florida closed the regular season with three straight losses, including a 74-59 defeat to top-ranked Kentucky on Sunday in which the Gators shot 38.2 percent and suffered another defensive breakdown.

The Gators allowed the Wildcats to shoot 52.5 percent overall and score 40 points in the first half.

Although its last three opponents have shot 52.6 percent, Florida (22-9) still feels confident it can make a deep run in the league tournament.

“I don’t think we’ve lost our pride,” guard Kenny Boynton said. “I think we’re going to get it together. We’ve been on losing streaks before.”

Boynton did not start against Kentucky after arriving late to a team meeting Saturday. He finished with seven points – less than half his team-leading 16.8 season average.

The Gators will need more from Boynton to make that deep run, but the junior is averaging only 9.7 points the last three games. He’s the team’s biggest outside threat, shooting 43.4 percent from 3-point range.

Long-range shooting is instrumental to Florida’s success. The Gators lead Division I with 307 3-pointers made and are 17-2 when hitting at least 10 shots beyond the arc. They are 19 of 69 (27.5 percent) the last three games.

The loss of Will Yeguete has also hurt the Gators, who are 0-3 since the reserve forward suffered a broken foot last month. He was averaging 4.4 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Florida was outscored 40-28 in the paint Sunday and outrebounded 36-30 despite center Patric Young finishing with 21 points and nine rebounds.

“I’ve been struggling to score inside lately,” he told the Gators’ official website. “But maybe after (today), the future looks bright.”

Young scored 19 points in a 61-52 victory over Alabama (21-10) on Feb. 14, but the Crimson Tide were without their frontcourt of JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, both of whom were suspended. Green has since returned while Mitchell is out for the year.

While the matchup could be key to determining the winner Friday, Alabama coach Anthony Grant said the team cannot be overly focused on Young given the Gators speedy backcourt.

“I think Floria’s got a very good balance in terms of the way they play,” Grant said. “You look at their perimeter guys all shoot the three … they really space you with their offense. So as a defense, we have got to be aware and alert to understand that it’s a variety of things that we have to prepare for.”

Alabama advanced to the quarterfinals with a 63-57 win over South Carolina on Thursday. The Crimson Tide held the Gamecocks scoreless for nearly five minutes after the game was tied with 6:38 remaining.

Freshman Trevor Lacey scored 15 points off the bench and Green added 12 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.

Alabama won four straight before closing the regular season with a 60-51 loss at Mississippi on Saturday.

The Crimson Tide are looking to advance to the tournament semifinals for a second straight year after losing to Kentucky last season.

“Just got to bring a lot of energy, like we did today, from now on out and we’ll be a tough team to deal with,” Green said.

Alabama has lost four in a row to Florida since an 80-69 win in the 2008 SEC tournament.