January 8, 2008

Gators top Alabama 90-83

Minus most of the talent that led back-to-back national championships the last two years, the Florida basketball team brought a mostly new cast into Coleman Coliseum Tuesday.

For a new cast, however, the Gators have obviously learned their lines.

Florida trailed early but pulled away for a 90-83 victory over Alabama in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams. Nick Calathes scored 21 and handed out nine assists for UF as Florida (14-2) won its seventh consecutive SEC opener.

With the game tied at 71, UF went on an 11-0 run capped by a pair of free throws from guard Walter Hodge for its largest lead of the game. During that run, Alabama had five consecutive one-shot possessions, each resulting in a missed 3-pointer.

"We had a couple of quick shots," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said of that stretch. "We needed to slow down a little bit and run our offense right there."

The Crimson Tide (11-5) enjoyed as much as a 10-point lead in the closing moments of the first half, but a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Jai Lucas cut the deficit to 47-40 at the break. Lucas, a freshman, scored 19 and was 6 of 6 from the free-throw line, leading a 21-for-26 effort from the line by UF.

"It was a confidence booster," said Lucas. "I hadn't really been hitting any shots before that shot."

Alabama was led by Alonzo Gee (game high 32 points) and Richard Hendrix, who recorded 24 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.

"Hendrix is a tough guy to block out," said UF coach Billy Donovan. "You can see him working to get position before a guy even shoots."

Hendrix struggled from the free-throw line (12 of 21), although Alabama's defense was the bigger problem. Florida was 15 of 27 from the field in the second half, including 7 of 11 from 3-point range.

"They set a lot of ball screens, we did a good job of taking away some penetration on some ball screens but they stepped behind them and made some shots," said Gottfried. "You've got to pick your poison there."

Alabama was just 8 of 26 from 3-point range, including off nights for Mykal Riley, Brandon Hollinger and Rico Pickett, who were 4 of 16 from beyond the arc. Pickett delivered nine assists, but had a game-high six turnovers.

Alabama next plays at Arkansas on Jan. 13.

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