Gators, Frazier make Bama pay for zone

Anthony Grant’s strategy was fairly simple and well worth a gamble – make the Florida Gators win the game from the 3-point line. Unlike last season when the Gators could surround the 3-point line with knockdown shooters, this year’s Florida team shoots the deep ball with sporadic success and typically, if Michael Frazier isn’t hitting threes, neither is anyone else. So, the Alabama coach went zone, hoping Frazier would have the same kind of game he had against Auburn last Saturday when he hung a donut, and basically dared the 6th-ranked Gators (16-2, 5-0 SEC) to beat his Alabama Crimson Tide (8-10, 2-3 SEC) from the outside.

The Gators not only took the dare but made Alabama pay, hitting 10-28 of their 3-balls to remain the only team in the Southeastern Conference with an unbeaten 5-0 record in league play with a 68-62 win at Coleman Coliseum. In racking up their 10th consecutive win overall, the Gators outscored Alabama, 30-6, from the 3-point line with Frazier going 5-13. Three of Frazier’s misses were of the gravity-defying type as the ball did everything but go all the way through the net.

From an aesthetic standpoint, this wasn’t one of Florida’s better efforts of the season, but this is a team that doesn’t have to win pretty.

“I didn’t think it was one of our better performances,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said on the Florida Radio Network post game. “I thought Alabama’s zone was somewhat disruptive but we managed to make some plays and find a way to win the game.”

Heading into Thursday night’s game, the Gators were hitting 36.1% from the 3-point line, taking an average of 16 3-pointers a game. Last Saturday, Auburn employed a mostly 2-3 zone that choked off the 3-point line (Gators were only 3-9) but gave up driving lanes for Casey Prather (21 points) and left the Tigers vulnerable for post up moves for Patric Young. Alabama elected to shut down the driving lanes and collapse the zone on Young. Prather, hitting 63.6% from the field heading into the game, had a 6-16 shooting night, and Young managed only five points. Every time he touched the ball, the Bama zone sagged and surrounded him with at least four hands slapping away at the ball.

Whereas the Auburn zone essentially took the 3-ball out of Florida’s arsenal and held Michael Frazier, the SEC’s leading 3-point shooter scoreless with only two shot attempts, Alabama’s zone was so interior-conscious that it left holes on the perimeter. Frazier wasn’t about to go scoreless a second straight game.

Frazier missed his first three 3-pointers before he got one to go. Then he missed two more before finding the range toward the end of the first half. Frazier got his second three to go with 2:17 left in the half after Alabama had closed an eight-point Florida lead down to two. His next 3-ball was a dagger from the right corner with 4.6 seconds left. Fouled on the play, Frazier hit the free throw that gave the Gators a 33-26 lead at the intermission.

Frazier got back-to-back 3-pointers to drop in the second half, but it was a 3-pointer by Scottie Wilbekin and another by Kasey Hill that kept the Gators out of trouble. Wilbekin’s three extended the Gators to a 42-35 lead with 13:57 to go in the game and Hill’s came with 12:37 to go to make it a 45-37 game. Both shots answered Alabama scores and kept the Crimson Tide from picking up any momentum.

Frazier sandwiched his two second half 3-pointers around a jump shot by Alabama’s Nick Jacobs to give the Gators their first 10-point lead of the game at 53-43 with 9:29 to go, a lead that bulged to 12 when Young got a steal on the wing and hit Hill streaking down the middle of the court for an easy layup at the 8:55 mark.

Alabama wasn’t about to go down easily, however. Alabama’s offense seemed to work well off scramble situations where the ball took fortuitous bounces, particularly late in the shot clock when it appeared the Gators were about to get a stop.

“It was one of those games where they manufactured some points late in the shot clock,” Donovan said.

The Crimson Tide countered the Hill layup with six straight points, four off of scramble situations and another two on a corner jumper by Jacobs. Alabama just wouldn’t go away, but each time the Crimson Tide got within five or six points, the Gators had answers. In the final two minutes of the game, the answers came from the foul line where Florida went 8-10 with Wilbekin going 4-4.

When Alabama whittled the lead down to five, 62-57, the Gators got 1-2 from the line from Hill and then two straight from Wilbekin with 25.9 seconds to go to make it a 3-possession game. Frazier knocked down two foul shots with 15.5 to go and Prather added one for insurance with 5.1 seconds.

GAME NOTES: After a 1-6 start from the 3-point line, Frazier was 4-7 the rest of the way … Frazier led all scorers with 18 points … Prather finished with 14, his 16th consecutive game in double figures. Wilbekin was the other Gator in double figures with 10 … Yeguete and Finney-Smith each corralled 11 rebounds to lead the Gators. Finney-Smith had seven offensive rebounds while five of Young’s six rebounds came on the offensive end … The Gators outrebounded Alabama 42-29 … Alabama actually outshot the Gators from the field – 38.6% to Florida’s 37.7% — but the Crimson Tide couldn’t overcome Florida’s advantage from the 3-point line … Alabama was led by Trevor Releford with 14 points while Jacobs had 12, Levi Randolph had 11 and Shannon Hale had 10 … Ten of Florida’s 18 free throws came in the last two minutes of the game when Alabama was forced to foul.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.