The No. 19/22 Florida Gators squeaked out a 66-63 victory against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Friday in the second round of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament. Before Florida can advance to take on the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats in the semifinals on Saturday at 1 p.m. on ABC, head coach Billy Donovan and a handful of players met with the media to discuss the hard-earned win.
FLORIDA PUTS FORTH A PRAISEWORTHY EFFORT
After being admonished by Donovan for the way they played in Athens, GA four games ago, Florida received praise from their head coach on Friday for executing well for the third-straight game. He was especially pleased with the way the team practiced during the week but did offer one criticism of the Gators’ game.
“This time of year, you got to find ways to advance and move on and we did,” he said. “I thought we had some opportunities both in the first half and the second half to really extend our lead and we weren’t able to do that. We got it up by 12, and I thought our defense hurt us in terms of let ting them get back into the game and tie it.”
Florida had multiple six-point leads and went up a game-high 12 points mid-way through the second half but allowed Alabama to tie it up. Though the Gators shot poorly (38.5 percent from the field) in the contest, Donovan blamed UF’s defense for allowing UA to stop their scoring stretch and tie things up.
“The problem was on the defensive end of the floor. We would get a stop and we wouldn’t come down with the ball, wouldn’t come down with the rebound,” he said. “They came down with it, and it gave them an extra possession in the game. And they didn’t have a lot of offensive rebounds, but I think they had some timely possessions, where they got the ball back. That kind of shut down our run.”
Donovan noted that Florida hitting 10 threes – even though the Gators were not exceptionally proficient from beyond the arc – was easily the difference in the game, calling treys “the greatest equalizer in college basketball.” He continued, “You can sometimes overcome a tough defensive night if you make enough threes and the other team doesn’t, and I think that’s what happened today.”
Crimson Tide head coach Anthony Grant, formerly an assistant under Donovan, took the exact same stance on the outcome of the contest.
“You look at it, probably the difference in the game was the 3-point line,” he said. “Florida was able to make 10 threes. We knew coming into the game that that would be key. But they had some guys that stepped up, made some contested ones, very difficult from a defensive standpoint to be able to contain them. [...] Florida did a good job attacking the paint and just finding open guys and making the extra pass, and that’s what their team do. Erv[ing Walker], he got going and started looking for his teammates and opened things up. They just played to their identity.”
BEAL AND MURPHY LEAD THE WAY FOR THE GATORS
Though he injured his ankle against Kentucky on Sunday, freshman guard Bradley Beal
was 100 percent healthy for Friday’s game. Donovan said that he sat out practice on Monday and Tuesday but returned to practice in full on Wednesday and Thursday and was perfectly fine for the contest.
“It didn’t hurt at all,” Beal said after the game. I was 100 percent [Friday]. It really didn’t bother me. I should be good to go [against Kentucky]. I’m fine.”
Beal notched team-highs in points (16), rebounds (seven) and assists (five) but struggled mightily with his scoring in the second half. He hit 3-of-4 threes in the first half but finished the game 3-for-11 from the field, scoring nearly half of his points from the free throw line, where he went 7-of-8.
That is probably part of the reason why he credits Florida’s defense for the win.
“We had to bear down and play defense, because like coach always tells us, he says every night we’re not going to make a lot of shots like we usually do. So this has kind of been a trend for us these last couple games of not making shots, so we really had to bear down on defense and guard guys,” he said.
Junior forward Erik Murphy, who was an efficient 5-of-11 from the field for 15 points, said he is proud of how much confidence the Gators played with on Friday.
“We got the win today. I think we always play with confidence, and I don’t think that’s a problem for us,” he said. “If we continue to defend and make shots, I think we can beat anybody. We just got to play and stay together.”
Beal concurred. “I believe our confidence is a big thing for our team,” he added. “We don’t ever lose confidence in ourselves. We always encourage each other to keep shooting the ball. And even though the shots don’t fall, there’s other things in the game that we can do to impact and try to get the win.”
Donovan pointed out one of those very things and noted that Murphy in particular has improved greatly in that area.
“The one thing our guys are starting to figure out is when teams switch and do a lot of different stuff, we got to find a way to take advantage of them,” he said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of that today here with [Murphy].”