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March 9, 2012NEW ORLEANS | All afternoon long, Alabama chased the alligator, sometimes pulling close enough to tug at its tail, occasionally even swimming alongside. But the Crimson Tide basketball team could never quite get one stride ahead.
UA pushed until the final seconds, scuttled in the end by a missed free throw and a just-off-the-mark 3-point shot, falling 66-63 against the University of Florida in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament at the New Orleans Arena.
JaMychal Green, who had carried Alabama offensively in the second half, missed a potential game-tying free throw with 20.3 seconds remaining and freshman guard Trevor Lacey had a potential game-tying 3-pointer rim out with two seconds to go in the game. The result was a fifth straight loss to Florida, a 21-11 record on the season, and, to the great relief of Alabama fans, a fairly brief wait until Sunday's NCAA Selection Show, when UA's name is expected to be called for the first time since 2006.
"We're disappointed that we can't continue the quest to an SEC championship," UA coach Anthony Grant said. "But I am very proud of the effort our guys gave. I thought we had great fight in us."
Alabama had trailed by 12 points, 45-33, with 12:50 to play, then went on a furious rally fueled by Green, who scored 18 of his game-high 22 points in the second half. Over the next six minutes, Alabama outscored Florida 16-4, pulling even at 49-49. But the Crimson Tide could never make the key stop or the critical basket and Florida was able to re-establish a safe-seeming seven-point lead, 64-57, on a Boynton 3-pointer with 1:58 to play.
But Alabama had one more run left. Green hit a pair of free throws with 1:38 to go, cutting the deficit to five points. UF's Bradley Beal missed a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession and Trevor Lacey answered with a 3-pointer of his own.
Florida turned the ball over on an Erving Walker travel and Green was fouled in the act of shooting on the next trip, sending him to the line with 20.3 seconds remaining and Alabama down 64-62. He made the first foul shot, his eighth in a row, but missed the second, leaving Alabama down by a point.
Boynton made a pair of free throws for Florida, upping the lead to 66-63. Lacey then got a square look at the game-tying 3-pointer, but missed.
"It was a great look," Lacey said. "JaMychal Green set a back screen and a rescreen and I came off open. I just didn't make the shot."
Grant also noted, when asked about Green's free throw miss, that the senior had been the catalyst in the Alabaam comeback.
"We wouldn't have been in the position to win without him," Grant said. "If that situation comes up in every game, with JaMychal on the line to give us a chance to win, I'll be happy with that."
The game's other critical difference was in 3-pointers. Florida made 10 of 30 3-point attempts, easily eclipsing the most allowed by UA this season.
"It's the greatest equalizer in college basketball," Florida coach Billy Donavan said. "We made seven more (3-pointers) than they did. That was the difference in the game."
Bradley Beal had 16 points to lead Florida (23-9), which will face top-seeded Kentucky in today's semifinal.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.