Gainesville, FL – The eighth-ranked Florida Gators welcome the Alabama Crimson Tide to the O'Connell Center on Saturday for a key SEC showdown.
Billy Donovan's Gators sit atop the conference standings with a 12-3 league ledger. However, losses in two of the last three games, has opened the door for both Alabama and Kentucky to catch Florida in the race for the conference crown. With Tuesday's 64-58 loss at Tennessee, UF now holds just a one-game lead over both the Crimson Tide and the Kentucky Wildcats with three games to play.
Anthony Grant's Crimson Tide have quietly gone about their business this season and are sitting at an impressive 11-4 in SEC play. At 19-9 overall, Alabama is seeking to become the fifth SEC squad to earn 20 wins this season. The Crimson Tide come into this contest with wins in five of their last six games, including a 61-43 rout of Auburn earlier in the week.
Alabama holds a 73-60 advantage in the all-time series, but Florida has closed the gap a bit with wins in five straight and seven of the last eight meetings overall.
The Crimson Tide didn't shoot the ball particularly well against Auburn this week, but they didn't have to, as they turned up the heat defensively, limiting the Tigers to a meager 30-percent shooting effort and outrebounding Auburn 41-31. Trevor Releford had a bit game, leading all scorers with 21 points in the victory. Trevor Lacey added 12 points, while Nick Jacobs and Retin Obasohan finished with 10 points apiece. Jacobs completed a double- double with 10 rebounds.
Alabama isn't a flashy offensive team by any means, as the team is netting a modest 63.5 ppg, on .431 shooting. The defensive numbers have been impressive though, as foes are averaging just 58.2 ppg. The team relies heavily on the trio of Releford, Lacey and Rodney Cooper at the offensive end. Releford is shooting just under 50 percent from the floor and leads the team with 15.6 ppg. Lacey gives the team a perimeter presence at 11.9 ppg, with a team-high 47 3-pointers. Cooper rounds out the top scoring threats with 11.0 ppg.
The Gators are a lot like the Crimson Tide as they rely on their defensive pressure to get the job done. Few teams are getting it done defensively like Florida, which ranks third in the nation in scoring defense (53.5 ppg) and eighth in field-goal percentage defense (.375). In addition, Florida is efficient at the offensive end, with their 73.1 ppg coming off a healthy .489 shooting. Four of the team's five starters are averaging double figures, led by Mike Rosario's 13.1 ppg. Fellow guard Kenny Boynton is next in line at 12.5 ppg. Frontcourt balance comes in the form of Erik Murphy (12.3 ppg) and Patric Young (10.4 ppg. 6.5 rpg). Scottie Wilbekin (9.0 ppg) has settled in at the point and currently ranks second in the conference in assists (5.4 apg).
Florida jumped out to an early lead against Tennessee, but the Volunteers battled back to take a three-point lead at the half, and finally outlasted the Gators down the stretch. Florida shot a mediocre .421 from the floor overall and was outrebounded 41-31 in the game. Rosario led the team with 16 points, although he was just 5-of-14 from the floor. Young added 15 points, while Casey Prather came off the bench to tally 10.