TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Home-court advantage wasn’t enough for Alabama as it lost to No. 6 Florida 68-62 on Thursday.
The Crimson Tide never led in the game and every time Alabama would chip away at Florida's lead, the Gators would make another 3-pointer or drive it to the basket to increase the margin.
“You have to give [Florida] credit,” Alabama head coach Anthony Grant said. “They are a great basketball team. They are the sixth-ranked team in the country for a reason.”
This loss for Alabama ends its home conference winning streak at 14 and makes the Crimson Tide 8-10 this season. On the other side, the win for Florida clinched the 100th victory for the Gators' seniors and improved the No. 6 team in the country's record to 16-2.
With Alabama’s second-leading scorer Retin Obasohan sidelined with a right hip flexor injury, the brunt of the Gators’ defense and the offensive burden fell upon Trevor Releford. The senior guard played every minute of the game, was double-teamed all night, and his teammates were not up to the task of bailing him out of those situations, which fell right into Florida’s game plan.
“We had to put two guys on [Releford],” Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. “He's the best guy in this league at finishing at the basket.”
Other than defending Releford, Florida won the game with rebounding and 3-point shots. The Gators out-rebounded Alabama by a slim total margin of 42-39, but Florida’s 18 offensive rebounds were paramount in its win—especially when those offensive rebounds led to 3-point attempts. Florida guard Michael Frazier II had 18 points and led all scorers in points: three of those points were from free throws and 15 were from five made 3-pointers. Florida was 10-for-28 on 3-point baskets, which is uncharacteristically marginal for its standards, but was plenty to overcome Alabama's 2-for-12 shooting on threes.
“Those threes hurt our momentum,” Releford said. “Give credit to Florida. We just gave Frazier his confidence, and when you give a shooter like him confidence, he just kept letting it go.”
Alabama, again, showed signs of confidence, effort and determination but is rarely able to get over that final hurdle against higher quality teams this season. The Crimson Tide has suffered losses to Oklahoma, Duke, Wichita State, Xavier and UCLA this season in non-conference play, and every loss was within a 10 points. And this loss to Florida is not only a conference loss or streak-breaking home loss for Alabama, it’s personal to Anthony Grant.
Grant, a former Florida assistant and former longtime assistant under Billy Donovan, hasn't beaten the Gators in seven tries as the coach of Alabama. While Grant has yet to succeed on a championship coaching level without the guiding light of Donovan on the bench beside him, the Gators coach credited Grant for helping build the program that Florida has now.
“As a coach, he's one of my best friends,” Donovan said. “Without him, our program probably doesn't experience two national championships and conference championships.
“Anytime you play against a close friend that you respect and admire, it’s always difficult.”
As Alabama regroups and moves on to face LSU on Saturday night, Grant will reevaluate his team, yet again. Obasohan will be reexamined, as well, and will be a game-time decision. But as Grant gazes upon the midway point of a mediocre season, and a loss to a close friend and colleague, Donovan maintains that no wins or losses could disrupt their friendship.
“The one thing that I respect about him—and I feel the same way—is there's nothing competitively is going to get in the way of our relationship,” Donovan said.