Florida Men’s Hoops Readies for Alabama in Battle of SEC’s Best

Over the years, the Florida Gators and Alabama Crimson Tide have manufactured myriad memories on the football field, touting two of the strongest programs in the SEC. On Saturday afternoon, the top two teams in the conference meet with the title potentially on the line—but this time on the men’s basketball hardwood.

Florida sits atop the SEC with a one game safety cushion over Kentucky and Alabama heading into the penultimate home game of the season. Tuesday’s trip to Knoxville proved futile, as the Tennessee Volunteers defeated the shorthanded Gators 64-58.

Thursday’s practice marked the first time in 138 days that the No. 8/6 Gators (22-5, 12-3 SEC) have fielded a full roster. Guard Michael Frazier II missed Tuesday’s contest ailing from a concussion but was cleared to practice and play. French forward Will Yeguete returns after a six game absence elongated by arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.

Although head coach Billy Donovan is happy to have Yeguete back in the lineup, he doesn’t expect him to be at full strength for quite some time.

Sharing Donovan’s sentiment, Yeguete says he is taking the return and recovery process slowly and isn’t looking ahead.

The tale of the tape highlights an edge in nearly every statistical category for the Gators. Florida’s defense has been the strong point of the team all season long, holding opponents to merely 53.5 points per game and 49.8% shooting, a mark that stands eighth in the nation. Although the Gators have earned a reputation as a sharp shooting offensive squad in the 2012-2013 campaign, the team hit a season low four 3-pointers on 17 attempts against the Vols.

Offensively, the Orange and Blue score 73.1 points per game, led by veterans Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton. Rosario’s average of 13.1 points per game leads the team, and he sits three points away from 1,600 for his career. Fellow senior Boynton is three points away from a milestone of his own—tying Andrew Moten for second all-time on the UF scoring list.

Alabama (19-9, 11-4 SEC) has been red hot in the month of February, defeating five of their last six opponents, with the lone loss in the stretch coming in triple overtime to LSU. The Crimson Tide have a penchant for closing out close games. Of their 15 conference contests, 10 have been decided by single digits, with the team earning eight victories compared to just two defeats in those games.

The stakes are high heading into Saturday’s game to keep regular season conference title hopes alive, but head coach Anthony Grant says the team needs to focus solely on the game at hand.

Junior guard Trevor Releford has shined brightly all season, particularly as of late. Releford dropped a career high of 36 against LSU last Saturday and followed that brilliant performance with 21 in a defeat of arch-rival Auburn Tuesday; his total of 15.6 points per game leads the team, and his 2.7 assists per game falls just shy of sophomore Trevor Lacey’s team leading 3.1. Lacy has notched 11.9 points per game this season, combining with Releford to form one of the conference’s top backcourts.

Much commotion has been made about Florida’s stalwart defense, but the Crimson Tide’s nips at the Gators’ heels statistically. The team averages 9.0 steals per game, good enough for 16th best in the country. Excluding the triple overtime thriller against the LSU, Alabama’s defense has not surrendered 60 points to the opponent since Tennessee scored 65 in a three point loss on January 12.

Alabama leads the all-time series 73-60, but the Gators have posted a dominant record of 17-5 under the tutelage of tenured coach Billy Donovan.

Coverage of Saturday’s game begins on ESPN Radio 850/900 at 11:25 and continues through tipoff at noon.

About Joel Sebastianelli

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