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Gators point guard Scottie Wilbekin takes a shot in Florida's victory at Alabama on Thursday night.

Friday January 24, 2014Grinding Away: Gators Get Some Distance, Hold Off Alabama To Stay Unbeaten in SEC

Gators point guard Scottie Wilbekin takes a shot in Florida's victory at Alabama on Thursday night.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- For a team led by four seniors who have been through the college basketball grinder, it was only fitting their 100th victory together was ... well ... sophomore guard Michael Frazier put it best.

“A grind,” he said.

Such is often the case when facing Alabama, with its tough-nosed defense and methodical offense; and especially at Coleman Coliseum, where the Crimson Tide had lost just two Southeastern Conference games since 2010 and carried the league’s longest home winning streak at 14 games heading into Thursday night.

But the sixth-ranked Florida Gators had a streak of their own. Nine straight wins coming in.

Make it 10.

Frazier, frustrated during a scoreless game 130 miles to the east at Auburn last weekend, snapped out of his mini-slump with five 3-pointers, scoring a team-high 18 points and leading the Gators to a 68-62 defeat of the Crimson Tide for a third straight league win on the road that kept Florida unbeaten in SEC play.

Frazier bounced his first two shots from arc, but finished the night 5-for-13 out there, making half of UF’s 10 treys. That difference in makes from distance -- Alabama went 2-for-12 -- provided the Gators (16-2, 5-0) with a cushion throughout a game during which they never trailed.

“We didn’t shoot an off-the-chart percentage,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said of his team’s 10-for-28 display (35.7 percent) from long range. “But we did make 10 and that helped us against their zone.”

Senior forward Casey Prather, back in the starting lineup after dealing with a knee bruise, scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds, while senior guard Scottie Wilbekin chipped in 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Senior forward Will Yeguete and sophomore backup forward/center Dorian Finney-Smith each tallied 11 rebounds, together accounting for half the team’s 44 on a night when both sides missed a bunch of shots. Finney-Smith had seven rebounds on the offensive glass.

For Prather, Yeguete, Wilbekin and center Patric Young -- the rookie class of 2010 -- the victory was the 100th during their four-year careers. They definitely earned it. The hard way.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” Prather said. “It’s humbling knowing that we have so far to go, yet have come so far since our freshman year. We’re going to enjoy this one.”

They should, but frankly the basketball on display probably didn’t make for great entertainment for the 11,892 inside Coleman or the ESPN2 audience. The two teams combined to shoot 38 percent overall -- just 30 percent from the 3-point line -- and missed a handful of easy shots.Some credit goes to the defense played on both ends. Florida was much better denying dribble penetration from Bama's guards than it at Auburn five days ago.

With just under four minutes to go in the first half, Florida led 22-19, having converted just eight of its 28 field-goal tries, mostly against a zone defense against which the Gators were getting some looks.

Just not hitting.

“My coaches and teammates told me to keep shooting,” Frazier said. “That’s what I did.”

Frazier hit his second trey of the half at the 2:15 mark. Prather spun his way to a couple baskets in the paint. Then it was Frazier again, this time ending the half not with a mere trey, but a 4-point play. He buried a shot from the deep corner, was fouled and sank the free throw with 4.6 seconds left to send UF to the locker room up by seven.

And with the momentum.

“Those 3s hurt,” said Alabama guard Trevor Releford, who led the Tide with 14 points and four assists in 40 minutes, doing so without his backcourt sidekick and No. 2 scorer Retin Obasohan (hip flexor). “They were momentum plays for Florida and gave Frazier his confidence. When you give a shooter like him confidence, he's just letting it go.”

That’s exactly what he did.

Frazier’s back-to-back 3s midway into the second half stretched the Gators’ lead to 10. It eventually swelled to 12, but Alabama (8-10, 2-3) didn’t quit. The Tide used a late six-point run to get the home crowd interested, but UF hit six of eight free throws over the final 47 seconds to stave off any hope of a rally.

It was UF’s eighth win in 10 games this season decided by single digits. For those who have forgotten (and the reminders are pretty regular), the Gators were 0-6 in such games last season.

“We found a way to get stops when we needed them and move the ball and get some good shots,” Frazier said. “Even though the ball wasn’t going in, we were able to get good looks. What else can you do?”

Just that. Play on, grind on, and do what it takes to win.

The Gators are getting pretty good at it.


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