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HOOPS: Gators roll past Tide despite lackluster defensive effort

GAINESVILLE -- The Master continues to dominate his Protégé.

Billy Donovan moved to 8-0 all-time against good friend and former lead assistant Anthony Grant, as No. 3 Florida stayed perfect in Southeastern Conference play with a 78-69 win over Alabama on Saturday afternoon.

Senior guard Scottie Wilbekin scored 16 points, leading all five UF starters in double figures. Sophomore swingman Michael Frazier added 14 points, while seniors Will Yeguete (12), Casey Prather (15) and Patric Young (11) all chipped in double-figures too.  

Florida (21-2, 10-0 SEC) shredded Alabama's (9-14, 3-7 SEC) zone defense, finishing with a season-high 22 assists and 48 points in the paint.

Despite a lackluster defensive performance, the Gators topped the Crimson Tide for the second time in 16 days, extending two winning streaks (15th straight overall, 29th consecutive victory at home) in the process.

The Gators, who entered the contest holding their last seven opponents to 35.6 percent shooting and 51.3 points per game, sprinted to an 8-0 lead before the Crimson Tide ever crossed half-court. They hit their first seven shots and the rout appeared on.

Not so.

Alabama managed to weather the early storm and actually jumped to a 20-18 lead after its own 16-4 run. Fueled by a trapping zone defense and senior guard Trevor Releford's ridiculous shot-making, the Tide frustrated the Gators into a seven minute scoreless stretch.

"We got off to a really good start," Donovan said. "But then we just turned the ball over and made some really poor decisions in open-floor situations."

Alabama was red-hot from the field in the first half, shooting 61 percent with 14 made baskets.

“Our defense was bad the whole game,” Donovan said. “It’s an everyday grind to be really, really good and we were not where we were supposed to be. Thank God we had some offense that helped us today.”

Florida eventually solved Grant's pressure-zone, scoring on nine of its final 10 possessions in the first half. 

With the score knotted at 36-all, the Gators opened the second half on a 14-5 run, spending the rest of the afternoon fouling and slowly watering its lead.

Releford finished with a game-high 25 points, but the Tide eventually ran out of gas, as the Gators' tempo was too much. 

Despite the win, Donovan was displeased with UF's trademark suffocating defense struggling against a below-average offense. Alabama shot 55 percent from the field, hitting six treys. Florida forced 16 turnovers, but kept UA in the game with lots of free throws and too many wide open looks. 

"We just fouled way too much," Donovan said. "We're about to play some games where if you play defense like we did tonight, you're not going to win."

Florida's 15-point second-half lead was enough to overcome its sloppy play, as Alabama never trailed by less than seven following UF's run out of halftime. The Gators' 21-2 start is the second-best in school history, but Donovan was more concerned with the future.

"That's just a record of what has happened in the past," he said. "I'm not overly joyous we're 10-0 in the SEC. We've played most of our games against the bottom-half of our league."

The Gators hit the road for four of their next five games, starting with Tennessee on Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN).

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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