Calathes scores 21 to help Gators rally in SEC opener

By Times wires
Published January 9, 2008

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Nick Calathes scored 21 and helped spark Florida's second-half surge for a 90-83 victory over Alabama on Tuesday in the first SEC matchup of the season.

The Gators(14-2) trailed most of the way before Calathes scored five straight to break open a 71-all game and start an 11-0 run. Florida then made 6 of 8 free throws over the final 51 seconds to help win its seventh consecutive SEC opener, the league's longest active streak.

Alabama (11-5) got a reprieve when Calathes missed the second of two free throws with 24 seconds left and Florida leading 86-83, but Dan Werner got the offensive rebound, was fouled and made two free throws.

The Tide then missed two straight 3s. Alabama has lost five SEC openers in a row.

"To win on the road in the SEC means a lot," Werner said. "To come back and win means even more. It shows our heart."

Calathes scored 17 in the second half and the Gators made 11 of 22 3-pointers. Jai Lucas, whose father, John, a former NBA player and coach, was watching from the stands, scored 19, Walter Hodge had 17 and Werner had 12.

Huge nights by Richard Hendrix and Alonzo Gee weren't enough for Alabama.

Gee scored a career-high 32 and Hendrix had 24 points and 16 rebounds. Hendrix made just 12 of 21 free throws but hit six in a one-minute span late to keep Alabama in the game.

Lucas, Hodge and Calathes all hit three 3s. The two-time defending national champs shot 56 percent in the second half.

The Gators trailed most of the game, taking their first lead with 13:21 left on a 13-3 run.

"Every time they needed a basket, they seemed to get one," Tide coach Mark Gottfried said.

Florida coach Billy Donovan was already worrying after the game about how his young players would handle the win.

"I'm scared to death of this," he said. "I've been around too many young teams who embrace it or think it's easy and don't handle it the right way."