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February 14, 2012
TUSCALOOSA | It took just over five minutes, but it may have undone the goals of an entire season.
The Florida Gators broke a halftime tie against a turmoil-plagued University of Alabama basketball team with 16 unanswered points, creating more than enough cushion to coast to a 61-52 victory that dropped the Crimson Tide (16-9, 5-6) back under .500 in Southeastern Conference play.
"Our emphasis at halftime was to come out with energy and effort," UA coach Anthony Grant said. "But they made some shots, we missed some shots and we've got to learn the lesson at you can't let your offense influence your energy."
Alabama played without its two top scorers, Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green, who are suspended indefinitely.
"We've got some young guys that are getting indoctrinated into the SEC, and we've just got to get better," Grant said. "When adversity hit, we didn't respond the way you have to respond against a team like Florida, or to win in this league. (Our players) have to look in the mirror and say, 'I've got to get better.'"
Alabama managed to overcome 11 first-half turnovers and battle to a 26-26 halftime tie, thanks largely to 10-of-17 shooting from the floor. But UA fared far worse against the Florida zone in the second half, making just eight of 28 shots, including one of 11 second-half 3-pointers.
"The reason we started in the zone was that Patric (Young) has two fouls," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "They went through a stretch where they were 0 for 10, although I don't know how much of that was our defense. It was a 2-3, although we were trying to match up with shooters."
The Gators (20-6, 8-3 SEC) started the second half on an 8-0 run with 3-pointers by Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy and a Young dunk. After Grant tried to stop the bleeding by calling timeout, the Gators - with three baskets by Young and a Boynton layup - pushed their lead to 42-26 with 14:56 remaining.
Andrew Steele, one of two Crimson Tide players reinstated after a one-game suspension, was UA's only double-figure scorer with 11 points. Florida's Young had 19 to lead all scorers. Charles Hankerson had nine, and Trevor Releford scored eight points for UA.
"We didn't bring our best game," Steele said. "We've got to take that on as a team."
The Crimson Tide shot just 50 percent (12 of 24 from the foul line).
Alabama will host Tennessee on Saturday in an attempt to snap a two-game losing streak.
"We've got to go to work," Grant said. "We're getting hit in the face with reality right now. That's where we are as a team. I think we've got fighters. We've got choices. We've got to decide what we're going to do, hang our head or fight. That's what I expect, that we will fight."
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.