University of Florida

For the first time this season, Florida Gators lose back-to-back conference games

Alabama guard Collin Sexton (2) looks to pass around Florida forward Keith Stone (25) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018.
Alabama guard Collin Sexton (2) looks to pass around Florida forward Keith Stone (25) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018. AP

Mike White hung his head.

Florida’s coach scuffed his shoes against the hardwood, screamed into his hands and watched as his team let Saturday’s game slip away.

With Alabama on a seven-point scoring run 11 minutes into the second half, White’s Gators turned the ball over and left Crimson Tide star Collin Sexton open for an easy bucket. It probably wasn’t the final dagger in the reeling No. 23 Gators, but it felt like it was.

Alabama (15-8, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) extended its run to 11 unanswered to zap any hopes of a Florida (15-8, 6-4 SEC) comeback and take Saturday’s contest 68-50. The final score was unthinkable in the game’s opening minutes.

“Today,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said, “was a tale of two halves.”

The Gators dominated the Tide at the tip and built a lead that swelled as high at 10. Led by four steals from senior point guard Chris Chiozza and energetic defense, UF kept Alabama off-balance.

As halftime approached, the Tide started to turn things around. Still, Florida entered the break with a six-point lead.

“The only conversation at halftime,” White said, “was to maintain that level of intensity.”

The momentum officially swung when the second half opened. Alabama embarked on an eight-point run to open play, which led White to call timeout.

The Gators, led by KeVaughn Allen, showed some fight out of the break. Allen floated in a breakaway bucket and hit a three-pointer as the shot clock ran out to get the lead back.

From there, it was all Alabama, all the time.

Florida’s offense fell apart, shooting 7-of-31 from the floor in the second half for 17 — yes, 17 — points. The Gators also went 5-of-24 from behind the arc in the game.

UF’s defense, meanwhile, was suddenly porous, and Alabama’s onslaught was relentless. An 11-point run, a six-point run and downright domination by the Crimson Tide on the glass — Alabama grabbed 43 boards to Florida’s 25 — doomed UF to its second consecutive loss and third conference loss in a row.

“When shots aren’t falling,” forward Keith Stone said, “we just don’t defend.”

White seconded that.

“When we’re making shots,” he said, “we defend at a different level.

“The defensive performance that we just gave in the second half was discouraging. To say the least.”

Florida, White added, derives the biggest chunk of its identity from scoring points quickly and often. And when shots aren’t falling, players look lost.

With another home contest coming up this Wednesday against LSU, that will be the focus in practice.

“I know the players are mad. I know the coaches are mad. I know the fans are mad,” Stone said. “We’ve gotta turn it around.”

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