Frustrated all night on both the offensive and defensive side of the basketball there wasn’t much going right for the Gators on Tuesday as they fell to the Alabama Crimson Tide by a score of 86-71. Florida hung in for most of the first half and even had a burst of energy to tie the game quickly coming out in the second but ultimately Alabama overwhelmed the Gators and trounced them in the final 15 minutes of the game. This was a major step backwards for the Gators after playing encouraging games that ended up as wins against Vanderbilt and LSU. Though Alabama hasn’t gotten a lot of attention following three somewhat-bad losses in the non-conference they have caught fire as of late easily beating a Tennessee team picked to win the SEC and there is a chance Florida’s loss Tuesday doesn’t appear to be too devastating. What does make the loss sting worse is the fact that Alabama was without arguably their best offensive weapon in Jahvon Quinerly and still the Gators were unable to get the stops necessary to make the game close.
This game was won and lost in the paint where Alabama used their length and athleticism to protect their rim at all costs and keep the Gators from getting easy buckets. Florida was a dismal 38% from two-point range, and even when they caught the ball in deep around the rim it was tough to have any level of faith they would finish. Any time the Gators got near the hoop they were swarmed with Alabama players who were active with their hands and explosive with their leaping ability and Florida had no ability to capitalize on highly valued paint shots. The Gators as a whole have gotten longer and more athletic but games like this one remind them of how far they need to go.
Florida shot 45% from the three-point line, a number that usually means a win when you achieve it. However, that wasn’t enough on this night and that’s because in addition to not being able to finish around the rim they gave away far too many possessions by taking tough midrange two-point attempts. Whether it was Noah Locke floaters, Tre Mann fadeaways, or Anthony Duruji pull ups the Gators took a ton of tough looks Alabama was more than happy to give them and it ended in a lot of empty possessions. What made these poor shots look even worse was the fact that Alabama was extremely disciplined in their shot selection only taking 1 two-point attempt the entire game that was further than 9 feet from the rim. This game will be a learning opportunity for the Gators when it comes to valuing possessions and taking good shots.
Tyree Appleby continues to be a spark plug off the bench finishing with 18 points (6-12 shooting), 3 assists, and 5 rebounds. Sure, he had some tough moments turning the ball over (3 times) and settling for a few difficult attempts but overall he was one of the few Gators to have a plus performance and a large part of it was his ability to make individual plays in space. Alabama was forcing the Gators to play one on one and not everyone was up to that challenge, but Appleby was. He continues to be a bright spot for this team.
The Gators were dedicated to a switching style of man defense and it got them hurt in a number of ways. For starters, Alabama was attacking mismatches relentlessly and making players like Colin Castleton and Omar Payne guard in space which resulted in lay up after lay up. The switches also meant players like Tyree Appleby and Noah Locke were stuck checking Alabama’s bigs, and that meant when a shot went up they were at a huge disadvantage boxing out, part of the reason Alabama finished with 15 offensive rebounds. In some matchups switching defenses will work but it certainly didn’t on Tuesday and the Gators didn’t seem willing to change it up.
Florida struggled all over the floor and it’s up to them to show whether this was a one-off bad performance or if it was an indication of deep seated issues. The Gators play Kentucky next on Saturday, a team that started the season 1-6 and just got their second win of the season by barely beating Vanderbilt after a Commodores’ jumper to tie spilled out at the final buzzer so the Gators have an opportunity to get a win. With several days to prepare, we will hopefully see what Florida is really made of on Saturday.