By Chris DePew
Feb. 13, 2016
Alabama took out almost a decade’s worth of frustration on Florida Saturday afternoon, holding the Gators to under 29 percent field goal shooting and pulling away for a 61-55 road victory to snap an 11-game losing streak in the series.
What did we learn today?: It’s time to talk about Alabama’s NCAA tournament chances in a voice louder than a whisper. The Crimson Tide has won four consecutive games, currently the best streak in the SEC, is now .500 in the league after a 1-5 start and could be just one more upset away from finishing with at least 20 wins. And while Florida isn’t ranked in the polls, in many ways this win is more impressive than any of the four games where Bama knocked off a Top 25 team. The Gators entered the day 21st in the RPI and 12-1 at the O’Connell Center, where Alabama hadn’t won since 1995. And even while playing far from a perfect game, the wrecked Florida’s offense, stayed confident while waiting for its own shots to fall and was mentally tough enough to overcome late adversity against a team that always gives it fits.
What was the best part of the game?: This has always been a team of Grinches on defense, but their hearts grew three sizes this day. Alabama fought and scrapped its way to a 48-44 lead, but calamity struck when Retin Obasohan picked up two quick whistles to foul out with 5:35 left. It felt like the Tide was about to sink without its undisputed star and floor leader, and the feeling multiplied when Arthur Edwards committed his fifth foul on the very next possession. But instead of backing down, Bama fought back even harder, keeping the clamps on the anemic Gators, holding onto possession and grinding out just enough points to salt the game away. And while Obasohan was key to Alabama seizing the lead after halftime, his team had already shown its heart by battling Florida on level terms even as he struggled, missing nine of his first 11 shots. If that effort gets combined with a normal Obasohan showing, Bama can hang with anyone in the SEC.
Who was the star?: Jimmie Taylor did yeoman’s work in the paint denying scoring opportunities to Florida’s talented big men, finishing with five blocks, four rebounds and two steals in 27 minutes. He also got into the offensive flow with 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting and had a couple of signature dunks, including a beauty with eight minutes remaining when he snagged an ankle-high, slightly off-target pass from Shannon Hale, launched himself from four feet away and nearly bent the rim down to a 45-degree angle. But it was his defense (and his ability to avoid fouls so he could stay in to play it) that was the real story.
What were the biggest concerns?: The only reason the Gators weren’t run out of the gym was their ability to grab an obscene 23 offensive rebounds. Florida out-rebounded the Tide 54-35, and could have made the game ugly if it could have ever warmed up from the floor (and still could have escaped with a win if it weren’t for 11 missed free throws). Obasohan got off to a rough start when the Gators sold out to contain his driving layups and was slow to adjust by looking for open teammates. His fifth foul was a disaster, an out-of-control charge that came seconds after he narrowly avoided an over-the-back whistle going for a rebound. Ordinarily he plays more under control when in foul trouble, and for him and Edwards to vapor lock at the same time is the last thing Avery Johnson needed from his two seniors.
What’s next?: Bama bumps up against fellow bubble team LSU on Wednesday in Baton Rouge. Tipoff on the SEC Network is at 8 p.m. Central.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris
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