GAME NOTES: The third-ranked Florida Gators put a lengthy win streak on the line on Saturday afternoon, as they welcome the Alabama Crimson Tide to the O'Connell Center for an SEC affair.
Billy Donovan's Gators ran their current win streak to 14 games with Tuesday's 68-59 win over the Missouri Tigers. Florida, which hasn't lost since a one- point decision at Connecticut on Dec. 2 (65-64), moved to a flawless 9-0 in conference play with the win over Missouri. The victory also extended Florida's current homecourt winning streak to 28 games and at 20-2, Florida has matched the best start over 22 games in program history.
Anthony Grant's Crimson Tide, like all other teams in the SEC are giving chase to close the gap between themselves and the Gators. However, Alabama has a great deal of ground to cover with losses in three straight and five of the last six games overall. The Tide fell to just 3-6 in the SEC with Wednesday's 65-58 road loss at Arkansas. The team has really struggled outside of Tuscaloosa this season, a combined 0-9 away from home.
The Gators are seeking the regular-season sweep after posting a tougher than expected 68-62 victory at Alabama back on Jan. 23. Alabama still holds a 73-63 edge in the series, but Florida has won eight straight meetings and 10 of the last 11 overall.
The Crimson Tide have not excelled at the offensive end of the floor this season and with a mere +1.2 scoring margin, there is little room for error, resulting in a less than stellar overall mark. Alabama is averaging just 68.8 ppg on .441 shooting, but does possess one of the SEC's top scorers in Trevor Releford, who ranks seventh in the league at 18.0 ppg. The problem is that there is little behind him in terms of scoring depth, with only Retin Obasohan (11.4 ppg) joining Releford in double figures.
It was once again a case of not enough firepower in the recent loss to the Razorbacks. Alabama connected on just 35.6 percent of its shots, including a poor 4-of-17 from behind the arc (.235). Rodney Cooper had the hot hand in the loss, finishing with 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting. He completed a double- double with a game-high 10 rebounds. Releford added 12 points to the cause, but the rest of the roster combined to add just 24 points.
The Gators don't light up scoreboards either, but the team's 71.1 ppg is more than enough when coupled with some of the nation's best defense. Florida ranks sixth nationally in scoring defense (57.4 ppg) and 13th in field-goal percentage defense (.384), while holding positives in both rebounding margin (+5.9) and turnover margin (+2.4). Scoring depth is a bonus for this team, with five players currently averaging double figures. Casey Prather leads the charge up front with 15.7 ppg. Michael Frazier adds 12.6 ppg and is the team's top sniper, with 68 3-pointers to his credit. Scottie Wilbekin (12.4 ppg), Patric Young (10.7 ppg) and Dorian Finney-Smith (10.0 ppg) provide various options as well.
The rich got richer this week, as Florida finally got touted freshman center Chris Walker on the floor against Missouri. Walker really wasn't a factor in the game (four points in seven minutes of work), but his potential only adds to the Florida arsenal the rest of the way. Wilbekin led the Gators in the win over Missouri with 19 points. Frazier added 14, while Young finished with 13. However, it was once again stellar defense which proved to be the difference, as Florida had to come from behind to earn in the win and in the process held Missouri to a season-low 58 points.
It remains to be seen just what kind of impact the 6-10 Walker will have on the Gators going forward. He's a luxury at this point, as Florida just focuses on its defense, which is usually enough to earn the victory.
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