The chalk has prevailed in the top-half of the SEC Tournament bracket, as the No. 1 seed Florida Gators are set to face off with the No. 4 seed Alabama Crimson Tide in the semifinals at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday afternoon.
The winner will advance to Sunday's championship bout to take on either Vanderbilt or Ole Miss.
After earning a double-bye into the quarterfinals, Alabama claimed an impressive 58-48 triumph over Tennessee in what may have very well been an elimination game for an NCAA Tournament selection. The Tide have won two in a row after losing three of the previous four, and they now sit with a 21-11 overall record.
Florida won the SEC regular-season title outright and earned the No. 1 seed in this event, also gaining a crucial double-bye into the quarterfinals, where it earned an easy 80-58 win over LSU on Friday afternoon. The Gators are now 25-6 on the season and have clearly separated themselves as the best team in an under-performing SEC.
Alabama leads the all-time series over Florida, 73-61, although the Gators have gone 18-5 under the tutelage of head coach Billy Donovan, including a 64-52 win in Gainesville on March 2.
Although Alabama shot just 41.3 percent from the floor in its quarterfinal- round matchup, it cruised to the 10-point victory by playing outstanding defense, holding Tennessee to a mere 32.1 percent from the field, and it is now 9-1 this season when holding opponents to under 50 points. Levi Randolph led the way with 15 points, Trevor Releford netted 14 points, while Nick Jacobs hauled in 12 rebounds in the winning effort. The Tide's calling card this season has been their outstanding defense, as they rank second to only Florida in the SEC in points per game allowed with 58.9 ppg. Releford is not only the team's leading scorer with 15.5 ppg (on 48.9 percent from the field), but he's also an elite defender, swiping more than two steals per contest while earning All-Defensive Team honors. Trevor Lacey brings 11.7 ppg to the table, while Rodney Cooper adds 10.5 ppg.
Florida thoroughly dominated its latest matchup with LSU. Not only did it shoot 50.9 from the field while holding the Tigers to just 33.3 percent shooting, it also held a convincing advantage on the boards (47-27). The Gators will, however, need to improve upon their free-throw shooting (11- of-22) if they wish to compete against the nation's elite. Erik Murphy, a First Team All-SEC selection, was a beast in the paint, shooting 11-of-15 from the field for 27 points to go along with 12 rebounds for this second consecutive double-double. Scottie Wilbekin shot 4-of-5 from 3-point range for 16 points, while Michael Frazier and Patric Young netted 11 and 10 points, respectively. On the season, the Gators have a strong offense, shooting 48.6 percent from the field for 72.3 ppg, but the biggest reason for their outstanding season has been their scoring defense, which ranks third nationally in surrendering only 53.4 ppg. Murphy is the leading scorer with 12.9 ppg, with Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton right on his heels with 12.2 ppg each. Young (10.5 ppg) and Wilbekin (9.2 ppg) were both named to the SEC's All-Defensive Team.