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Gators hammer Tide for one last hurrah at No. 1

UF 75, ALABAMA 56: Florida sends message to SEC with 16th straight home win.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 9, 2003

GAINESVILLE -- Still reeling from its humiliating loss to Kentucky four days earlier and desperate to prove it is a much better team than a national television audience saw in Lexington, Florida sent a message to the rest of the SEC Saturday afternoon: It was down, but it certainly is not out.

Bouncing back from the loss that will move them out of the No. 1 position Monday, the Gators defeated Alabama 75-56 in front of 12,101 at the O'Connell Center.

Florida (19-3, 8-1) has won 16 consecutive home games, third-longest streak in school history. Alabama has not won in Gainesville since 1995.

"This was about showing the world that we've got some character in us as players," said freshman guard Anthony Roberson (16 points, five assists). "We've got the kind of players that we lose one and we're coming back even harder the next one. That's what it's all about."

At least, that's what Florida coach Billy Donovan hoped it was all about.

The last time Florida and Alabama met, each was playing for a shot at an SEC title, both were ranked in the Top 10 and the game came down to a last-second winning shot by the Tide.

One year later, No. 22 Alabama (13-7, 3-6) has lost seven of its past 11 and is 0-6 on the road. Instead of vying for a conference title, the team that was ranked No. 1 for two weeks in December is the worst 3-point shooting team in the league (28 percent) and struggling to hang on.

Coming off a loss that ended a 14-game winning streak, Donovan knew the Gators needed more than just a win. They needed to prove that the Kentucky game was atypical and they are capable of moving on, and playing much better.

"The key was just being able to put this behind us," Donovan said. "I didn't feel at all like there was a lack of confidence on our basketball team or our guys were questioning themselves one bit. But you've got to understand what these kids went through: Tuesday morning they are No. 1 in the country, they're in all the headlines and everybody's talking about them. By 11:30 that night, everybody's laughing at them."

Nobody was laughing Saturday.

Florida made eight of its first 12 shots from the field while Alabama went 0-for-6. Trailing 19-7 with 9:47 remaining in the first half, the Tide went on a 13-3 run, led by Kennedy Winston, to pull within 23-20 with 5:43 left in the half.

But three 3-pointers from Roberson and freshman Matt Walsh keyed a 15-4 run that gave the Gators a 38-24 halftime lead. Alabama never recovered.

"Obviously Florida is a very good team," Tide coach Mark Gottfried said. "I'm sure coming off their game against Kentucky they had a little bounce in their step, which they should. They made some good shots, some tough shots, in the first half."

Gottfried said last week that one of his biggest concerns was the Tide's poor perimeter shooting. He clearly understated the issue. Alabama was 2-of-18 from 3-point range, 11 percent. The Tide shot 32.8 percent from the field (19-of-58) on one of those days where even good shots circled the rim, then came crashing out.

"It's not just like we're missing bad shots," sophomore guard Maurice Williams said. "These are shots that go in, then out, and that's pretty frustrating. It's encouraging that we played extremely hard, but you wake up the next morning and it's still the same way. Better to play hard and win."

Florida shot 47.3 percent from the field (26-of-55) and 47 percent from 3-point range. Coming off an abysmal game against Kentucky, senior forward Matt Bonner scored a game-high 21, and center David Lee added 12 and eight rebounds. Alabama's Erwin Dudley, the reigning SEC player of the year, had 15 points and Winston and Williams each added 13.

For now, the Gators proved they can move on. But they haven't forgotten.

"I'm happy we play (Kentucky) twice," Roberson said. "They've got to come down here to the O'Dome and it's going to be a different outcome, I'll bet you."

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