3 takeaways as Florida comes up short in upset bid against Alabama

·4 min read

The Gators had to wait a week longer than expected to make their SEC debut. They had been out of action since Dec. 22 after a spell of COVID-19 cases hit the program, and the planned conference opener against Ole Miss was postponed.

The makeshift opener against No. 15 Alabama was not worth the wait. Though the game had competitive stretches, the Crimson Tide persevered on the road in Gainesville for an 83-70 win as Florida (9-4, 0-1 SEC) loses the first leg of a tough three-game stretch to begin SEC play.

UA (11-3, 2-0 SEC) controlled the game in the opening minutes, but a cold streak allowed UF to take a three-point lead to the locker room. However, it had its own offensive struggles during the opening minutes of the second half. That put the Gators in a hole they couldn’t come back from despite playing tough in the final minutes.

Here are the takeaways as the Gators begin their SEC slate with their second Quadrant 1 loss in three tries.

The rough start to the second half was too costly to overcome

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The Gators actually outplayed the Crimson Tide in the first half, outshooting them 50% to 31.4% and jumping out to a 39-36 lead heading into the second half. But in the first few minutes of that period, it was all Alabama. Florida missed its first nine shots of the half, allowing ‘Bama to go on a 22-7 run in that span.

Before UF even knew what was happening, it trailed by 15 in this one, and offensive mistakes didn’t make the comeback any easier. Florida turned the ball over 20 times in this game, and 12 of those came in the second half. Those mistakes led to 21 points for the Tide.

The Gators shot 42.3% for the game after hitting just 34.6% of their shots in the second half. The outside shooting struggled all game, and the team was just 34.8% on threes. C.J. Felder was the unlikely hero in that regard, hitting two of his three attempts from downtown as he scored 12 points, but the offense from the Florida backcourt left a lot to be desired. Myreon Jones and Tyree Appleby scored 11 and nine points, respectively, but shot just 4 of 14 and 1 of 6.

The offense has been concerning all season for the Gators, and it cost the team a chance at an upset in this one.

Florida should have fared better inside

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Alabama is a talented team, without a doubt, but its strength comes from its backcourt in Jahvon Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford. Florida got both starting big man Charles Bediako (four fouls) and backup Noah Gurley (fouled out) in foul trouble, and with preseason First Team All-SEC selection Colin Castleton, this should have been a dominant performance inside for the Gators.

It was certainly a good game for Castleton on offense, as he led the team with 19 points, shooting 7 of 10 from the field and hitting five of his seven free-throw attempts, and he also had just seven rebounds. But UF failed to take full advantage of that foul trouble, as it hit just 18 of its 28 free throws as a team.

Though the teams were even at 40 rebounds apiece, the Crimson Tide had 20 rebounds compared to Florida’s 15. Luckily for the Gators, that only netted 16 second-chance points, but that’s still too many. Pair that with the team’s struggles defending the paint, where it allowed nearly half of Alabama’s 83 points, and it’s clear that there was a missed opportunity to stake out a big advantage under the basket.

The defensive performance was concerning

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On paper, it wasn’t a terrible night for UF on the defensive end. Alabama only shot 40.3% from the field for the game, though it was pushing 50% in the second half. But that doesn’t change the fact that Quinerly and Shackelford found a lot of success. The former scored 19 points, tying forward Juwan Gary for the team-high, and the latter was also successful, scoring 14 points.

All five of Alabama’s starters scored in double figures despite the team being outshot and hitting just 28.1% of its shots from downtown for the game. The Crimson Tide turned it over 12 times, but their ball movement was still solid as they had 16 assists as a team and became the first to crack the 80-point threshold against this UF defense this year.

The Gators also hurt their own cause by gifting Alabama 16 points from the free-throw line. They got into foul trouble themselves, committing 20, and UA was much more effective at converting from the line, missing just three of its 19 tries. Those points plus the 16 that resulted from second chances and the 21 that came from turnovers helped Alabama make up for a sub-par shooting performance to have one of its best scoring outputs of the season.

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