Florida 69, Alabama 61: Gators handle Crimson Tide, set up rematch with Kentucky

It’s become a constant to talk about Florida’s lack of offensive production in the half court game, their poor free throw shooting and their long scoring droughts. Luckily, it didn’t matter today.

It might tomorrow.

Dorian Finney-Smith was the hero on this day, exploding for 23 points, and pulling down 11 rebounds to lead Florida over Alabama, 69-61, in the so-called round of 16 in the SEC Tournament. As the leading scorer, it’s only fitting that Finney Smith landed the dagger, a three pointer with two minutes to go that put Florida back up by ten. But it’s not like he was the only dependable scoring source today; Eli Carter added 11 points, and Devin Robinson chipped in ten more. With the defense that Florida plays, they’re going to be very tough to beat if they can establish three legitimate scoring threats.

On the downside, Michael Frazier had one of his worst performances as a Gator, shooting just 1-10 from the floor. Frazier is the team’s best three point shooter (or at least he used to be), and yet he played today’s game with what seemed to be a total lack of confidence, passing up open shots to either try to get closer or let a teammate take a shot. That’s not what you want to see out of the only returning starter from a Final Four team.

But in any case, a win is a win, and Florida got one today over an Alabama team that was battered and bruised. The Crimson Tide only dressed nine players for the game, creating a lack of depth that Florida took advantage of down the stretch. Alabama’s best player, Rodney Cooper, got in foul trouble early, and that really slapped the handcuffs on Anthony Grant. With no other option, Grant sat him down, and the Gators’ lead ballooned from two to nine in the blink of an eye, and it eventually became eleven. The best Alabama could do was cut it to 60-53 with 3:48 to go.

Then Finney-Smith delivered the knockout punch.

The win makes for some interesting statistics. Florida has now beaten Alabama eleven straight times, and 19 out of the last 22. On the same note, today marks 2,555 days since Alabama has beaten Florida in basketball. And the most fascinating of all: Anthony Grant has now beaten every single team in the SEC- except for Florida.

OK, that was fun. Time to look ahead.

Next up: the number one team in the country, Kentucky, in the SEC Quarterfinals. Florida’s played them tough twice, and really controlled the game in Gainesville for much of the first half before letting Kentucky take over. As for tomorrow, yeah, Florida’s got a chance; Kentucky’s averaging a shade under 75 points per game, but Florida held them to 67 and 68 in the two games against them. If the Gators can add some scoring to complement their defense, they could really give Kentucky trouble.

But of course, Kentucky is the heavy favorite, partially because they’re on a quest for perfection. Florida’s forced to rely on hope- blind hope, at that- of what would be nothing short of a miracle.

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