GAME NOTES: The sixth-ranked Florida Gators continue their run through the SEC, as they take on the Alabama Crimson Tide on Thursday night in a conference matchup at the Coleman Coliseum.
Billy Donovan's Gators continue to move up the Top 25 rankings each week thanks to their current nine-game win streak. The team has dropped just two games this season at Wisconsin and at Connecticut, but hasn't lost since Dec. 2, moving to 15-2 overall and 4-0 in the SEC with last weekend's 68-61 road win at Auburn.
Anthony Grant's Crimson Tide have struggled with consistency this season and the result is an overall record that stands one game under .500 at this time (8-9). Alabama has lost two of its last three games, including last weekend's 68-47 drubbing at the hands of Missouri in Columbia. The loss to the Tigers dropped the Tide to an even 2-2 in conference play.
Alabama holds a 73-62 advantage in the series with Florida, but the Gators are closing the gap thanks to wins in seven straight and nine of the last 10 meetings, overall.
The Gators are a fairly efficient offensive squad, but it is their defensive play that has separated them from the competition this season. Florida ranks among the nation's best in terms of scoring defense, ranking 10th at a mere 59.7 ppg allowed. The team is holding foes under 40 percent shooting (.396), while enjoying positive margins in both rebounding (+5.5) and turnovers (+2.6). Florida's strength offensively is in its myriad of weapons. Five Gators are currently averaging double figures, led by Casey Prather's 17.3 ppg. The 6-foot-6 senior ranks first in the SEC and fourth nationally in field-goal percentage at an impressive .636. Senior guard Scottie Wilbekin is next in the scoring column at 12.7 ppg, followed by Michael Frazier II (11.7 ppg), Patric Young (10.9 ppg) and Dorian Finney-Smith (10.8 ppg).
Florida shot .538 from the floor, held a 31-23 edge in rebounding and outscored the Tigers 23-14 from the free-throw line in the Gators' road win at Auburn this past weekend. Prather came off the bench for the first time this season and went 8-of-10 from the floor to pace the team with 21 points. Wilbekin poured in 16 points, while Young finished with 13.
Like a lot of teams out there, Alabama lacks the scoring depth that Florida has. Instead, the Crimson Tide rely heavily on the play of senior guard Trevor Releford to lead the way. The 6-0 veteran is shooting just over 50 percent from the floor overall, just under 40 percent from behind the arc and ranks seventh in the conference with 18.3 ppg. Releford also makes teams pay for sending him to the free-throw line, ranking fifth nationally in free-throw percentage (.917). Sophomore guard Retin Obasohan rounds out the double-digit scoring threats for Alabama with 12.2 ppg, although junior guard Levi Randolph isn't far off the mark at 9.3 ppg.
The Crimson Tide held their own in the first half against Missouri, trailing the Tigers by only a single point at the break (31-30), but the second half told the tale, as Missouri ran away for Alabama over the final 20 minutes, outscoring the visitors 37-17 the rest of the way. Despite putting up a meager 47 total points, four Alabama players notched double figures in the loss, led by Shannon Hale's 12 points. Obasohan added 11 points to the cause, while Releford and Randolph chipped in with 10 points each.
Releford had a down game at Missouri and things may not get any better for Alabama's top scorer against the stingy Gators. Expect Florida to frustrate the 'Bama shooters all night long and continue its flawless run through the league.
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