Despite never trailing in the game, the No. 19/22 Florida Gators (23-9, 11-6 SEC) coughed up a number of leads to the Alabama Crimson Tide (21-11, 9-8 SEC) on Friday afternoon but found a way to pull out a 66-63 victory and advance to the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament.
The Gators, held to 38.5 percent shooting from the field, were outrebounded 30-25 by the Crimson Tide but managed to force 10 turnovers while only coughing up the ball five times. UF’s 10 makes from three-point range were the difference in the contest even though UA connected on four more baskets over the duration of the game.
Florida outscored Alabama 7-1 to start, but the Gators followed up their hot start by going scoreless for 5:22 and allowing the Crimson Tide to tie things up by scoring six-straight points in that stretch.
UF again jumped ahead of UA by six thanks to an 8-2 run including two threes by freshman guard Bradley Beal, but Florida suffered another scoring drought (this time for 3:08) and let Alabama tie things up again at 15 all with 6:36 left in the opening half.
The Gators went back up six as Beal scored five-straight points including his third trey of the half with 2:57 remaining, but a buzzer-beating three by Crimson Tide G Levi Randolph cut their lead to just two points at the break.
Alabama opened up the second half with a fast break dunk to tie the game at 26. Florida answered quickly, retaking their lead and extending it to a game-high 12 points with an impressive 17-5 scoring stretch.
The Crimson Tide refused to go down without a fight though, responding by taking off on a 16-4 run to tie the game at 49 as the Gators went scoreless for 3:47.
Florida and Alabama battled back-and-forth for the duration of the contest. The Gators jumped ahead seven points after junior G Kenny Boynton nailed a three with less than two minutes to play, but the Crimson Tide scored five-straight and used a trey by G Trevor Lacey to cut UF’s lead to two with 1:07 to go.
A turnover by Walker, who drove the lane and appeared to slip on a wet spot and travel, gave UA the ball back with 41.4 seconds left. Alabama F JaMychal Green missed the ensuing shot but got fouled and hit the first of two free throws before missing the second and giving the ball back to Florida. Boynton was fouled on the other end; he made both free throws to put the Gators ahead three points, a margin UF would retain over the final 9.8 seconds as Lacey missed what would have been a game-tying three at the buzzer.
Beal led the way for Florida with team-highs in points (16), rebounds (seven) and assists (five). He went 3-for-4 from downtown to start the game but did not hit a single bucket in the second half even though he was an efficient 7-for-8 from the free throw line. Murphy was the team’s most efficient player, scoring 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting despite hitting just one trey. He also had three boards and a game-high three blocks.
Boynton added 14 points, four rebounds, two dimes and two steals. Sophomore center Patric Young, coming back down to earth after a breakout game against Kentucky, scored six points and grabbed five boards but fouled out in the waning minutes.
Green was the player of the game even in a losing effort for Alabama, posting a double-double with game-highs in points (22) and rebounds (10). The Crimson Tide as a team hit 53.3 percent of their shots from the floor.
The Gators’ victory celebration will be short-lived as Florida must turn around and try to avoid a three-game season sweep at the hands of No. 1 Kentucky, which they will take on in semifinal action on Saturday at 1 p.m. The game will air live nationally on ABC.
Photo Credit: Gerald Herbert/Associated Press