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March 2, 2013

Alabama goes cold, Gators pounce

GAINESVILLE, Fla. | The University of Alabama came into its matchup with No. 8 Florida with a chance to pull off a signature win.

For 28 minutes, the Crimson Tide appeared up to the task. But Alabama failed to hold an eight-point lead in the final 12 minutes, falling 64-52 to the Gators before a crowd of 11,624 at the O'Connell Center.

The loss dropped Alabama (19-10, 11-5 Southeastern Conference) two games behind Florida (23-5, 13-3) in the title race with two games to play. Alabama plays Tuesday night at Ole Miss.

"This is not something that can discourage us," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "We just have to move forward and still have a chance to get a top-four seed (in the SEC Tournament). We just need to be prepared to enter into another hostile environment at Ole Miss."

The Crimson Tide was intent on playing spoiler to Florida's march toward an SEC regular-season title. Down 29-26 at halftime, Alabama went on a 19-8 run to start the second half, jumping ahead 45-37 on a driving layup from Trevor Releford with 12:23 left.

But Alabama was done in by another long scoring drought. For the next 9:24, the Crimson Tide just scored two points during a 19-2 run. During the stretch, Alabama went 1 of 8 from the floor, had four turnovers and missed a pair of free throws.

"It's always going to be a 40-minute game," Grant said. "We wanted to stay the course, not play too fast or too slow, and that helped us get the lead, but a team as good as Florida will know how to respond to that."

Releford led Alabama with 12 points. Trevor Lacey and Nick Jacobs added 11 points each for the Crimson Tide. Alabama scored more second-chance points than Florida (14-12) and held the Gators to a season-low 15.4 percent (2 of 13) from 3-point range.

But the Crimson Tide was done in at the free-throw line. Alabama made just 4 of 10, while Florida was 22 of 26, including 13 of 13 in the second half. Erik Murphy led four Florida scorers in double figures with 15 points.

"(We weren't happy with) how the foul count was and how we gave up free throws," Lacey said. "We felt like if we defended without fouling, we would have probably had the lead going into halftime. We talked about defending without fouling and to keep attacking."

The loss dropped Grant to 0-5 against his mentor, Florida coach Billy Donovan. Grant worked 12 seasons under Donovan as an assistant at Marshall and Florida from 1994-2006.

"I think Anthony has done a great job coaching his team to the personnel that he's got," Donovan said. "He's got a very young team. I don't think Anthony wanted to come in here and get into a game going up and down the floor with us."

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