Alabama laid an egg in its biggest regular season game in 9 years. Florida was the better team, and I think we all knew that going in. Given Alabama's reputation for defensive intensity, and the fact that our worst SEC loss under Coach Grant had only been by 11 points, I think we all expected to at least be competitive. We were for one half, but mostly because it took the Gators a while to get going.
We picked up 5 fouls in the first 4 minutes of the game, including a technical foul on Chris Hines. Hines has been my favorite player all year, but that was not the kind of senior leadership we needed on the road with an SEC title on the line. The early foul trouble set the tone for the game.
Going back to the subpar performance against auburn, we have now had 3 bad games in a row. One has to wonder if we are getting tired down the stretch or peaked too early. Some people feel that auburn "exposed us" and gave other teams the blueprint for how to defend us. I agree with that to some extent, but not for the reason most are saying.
It was no big secret that we can't make an outside jumpshot. The "play zone and pack it in" strategy was not exactly a new or earth shattering defensive approach. Barbee exposed us with the press. We had seen it some, but since auburn, both Ole Miss and Florida put more pressure on our guards in the back court than we have seen all year. I believe the extra effort that Releford is having to expend in getting the ball up court is effecting our ability to attack the zone once we break it.
Although Releford was our leading scorer with 17 points, I did not think he had that great of a game. It was good to see his dribble drive to the basket come back, but he was not able set up scoring opportunities for his teammates like he was earlier in the year. Expecting a true freshman to continue to play at such a high level for an entire season was probably unrealistic. I can't recall which game it was earlier in the year, but I remember Coach Grant moving Senario to the point for a couple of possessions which allowed Releford to slide over the 2 and get a couple of open looks for 3. Obviously, you don't want Hillman or Steele running point for any extended period of time, but I would like to see Coach Grant try this again for a couple of possessions. It could give Releford a little bit of a break while hopefully boosting his confidence and helping the team if he could knock down a couple of 3s.
We were tied at 30, but we really didn't play much better in the 1st half than we did the 2nd. Florida could not make a free throw or a jump shot. We conceded several wide open 3's that the Gators bricked. We had 10 turnovers by halftime and were already in foul trouble. I knew Florida would not continue to stink it up at home, and I wish we would have switched back out of the zone after Florida made their first trey of the game late in the 2nd half. When they added a 2nd, I had a feeling they would at least go on a 6 to 8 point run in the second half.
Not only did they go on a run, they completely dominated us. Our point guards could not keep up with their's, and they consistently beat us off the dribble. The pass to the opposite side resulted in a wide open shooter every time, and they didn't miss. Their bigs absolutely owned Chris Hines inside. I'm not sure JaMychal Green boxed anybody out all night. Florida did not pick up their first foul of the 2nd half until the 8:30 mark. It was not poor officiating, but a lack of aggressiveness on our part. Green could not get anywhere near the low block. As usual, we could not shoot a 3. Davis had another awful game on the road, on both sides of the floor.
Where does this leave us?
We still have a lot to play for. If we beat Georgia Saturday, we will finish 12-4 in the SEC, and undefeated at home for the season. Any coach in the conference will tell you that the goal is to win at home and split on the road. We have a chance to do exactly that, and if Vandy beats Florida in Nashville, we would technically be Co-SEC Champions with a win. I'm sure we can all agree that real SEC Champions reside in Gainesville, and they proved that last night, still, it would be nice to get the title. A lot of people think we still have a shot at the tournament with a win over UGA plus a win in the SEC tournament. I think we need to beat Georgia and make it to the championship game to even have a chance, but we will see. Nevertheless, let's keep it real for a minute. We are a team with no depth that can't shoot. The fact that it took this long to be blown out be a good team, not to mention the fact that we were 20 minutes away from a league championship, is amazing.
The O'Connell is a dump. There are no concourses at all. Instead, there are 4 entrances in the corners with seperate lobbies that lead into the arena, and you have to walk a narrow pathway within the arena itself to navigate around to your poorly labelled seats. The best seats in the house, lower level along the sideline behind the team benches, do not even have individual chair backs whereas the upper levels do. It's very basic, almost like a bunch of seperate sets of temporary bleachers and seating were thrown together. The sound system consists of a bunch of horn style speakers hung over center court, which would be a great place for a scoreboard. Instead, the scoreboards are in the corners around the TV replay screens. It took a while to get used to where to look for information regarding the score, player and team fouls, etc. I do like the fact that it is located within a short walking distance of their version of the strip. Also, it was pretty cool that they leave the football stadium open.
It was a late arriving crowd, and surprisingly was not a sellout, although it did come very close to finally filling up. There were probably over 11,000 there, the place holds 12,000. I disagree with Alias below about their crowd. It was VERY quiet for most of the first half. I think it seems a lot louder on TV because they give their students great seats in the lower level along the sideline right behind the announcers. I do like that part of their set up. I was pleasantly surprised with the number of Tide fans there. We probably had at least 500 scattered throughout, you could see at least some crimson in every section. I apologize for the poor quality of the pics. My gf was wise enough to sit this one out, but I took a few:
Entrance to the O'Dome.
Championship Banners. Coach Grant received a nice ovation before the game for his role in bringing those to Gainesville.
The view from our seats.
Rowdy Reptiles Courtside seating.
The Gator fans were first class all the way. We were treated very well before, during, and after the game. We didn't hear a single negative comment from anybody the entire time we were down there.
I found this note on my car after the game. After watching the unmitigated catastrophe that was the 2nd half, I appreciated the chuckle.
Up next, Georgia comes to town for a 12:30 tip off Saturday afternoon. It will be televised on the SEC network. UGA is a very good team who is trying to play their way into the NCAA tournament, and it's obvious that we are wearing down a little bit. We really need a packed, loud house to give our guys a boost.