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Alabama’s Jermareo Davidson (33), shooting against Florida’s Joakim Noah (13), scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Crimson Tide improved to 16-10.
AP Photo by Robert Sutton
Alabama’s Jermareo Davidson (33), shooting against Florida’s Joakim Noah (13), scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Crimson Tide improved to 16-10.

Bama bites Gators
Tide wins to beef up resume for NCAA tourney bid

By Kyle Veazey
DAILY Sports Writer

kveazey@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — Jermareo Davidson grabbed the rebound, wrapped both of his gigantic arms around the ball, and looked high into the screaming thousands.

He and his teammates had secured the win. But maybe the big rebound — the one he just wouldn't let go, even after the whistle — signified something else: Alabama, with a 82-77 win on national television over No. 12 Florida, may have done enough to secure an at-large bid into next month's NCAA tournament.

That's something no one wants to let go of.

"Coaches, we're like politicians," Alabama's Mark Gottfried said. "We start lobbying harder than ever."

So, go for it.

"The thing for us, we've beaten the top three teams in the East (Division) and we've beaten the top teams in the West," Gottfried said. "Nobody else in our league, I think, has done that."

A convincing case, sure, but the berth isn't wrapped up. It wasn't after the Tide upset then-No. 8 Tennessee at Coleman Coliseum eight days earlier, and it surely wasn't when Alabama beat LSU in early February.

But with each of those steps, the Tide's last two regular-season games gained less and less importance. Sunday's win assured Alabama will finish with a winning conference record, and diminishes Arkansas' chances to slip past the Crimson Tide into second place in the Western Division.

The Tide (16-10, 9-5 SEC) has two league games left against teams with a combined 8-20 league record. Auburn (12-13, 4-10) visits Coleman Coliseum on Wednesday night, and the Tide travels to Mississippi State (14-13, 4-10) on Saturday. Alabama has already beaten both squads this season.

"I don't think we should be satisfied," said Davidson, who scored 16 and had 10 rebounds. "We're going to keep trying to get wins."

Then, a slight correction: "We're going to keep winning."

One Ratings Percentage Index model had Alabama 44th through Saturday's games, ahead of a surging Arkansas team (45) that beat Florida, Alabama and Tennessee last week. The NCAA selection committee uses the RPI as part of its criteria for deciding the tournament field.

"We did a great job of preparing ourselves and bouncing back (from Tuesday's loss to Arkansas)," said Athens High's Hendrix, who had a career-high 17 rebounds and added 11 points in front of a sell-out crowd of 15,335.

The Tide bounced back early, too. Alabama raced out to a double-digits lead in the game's first nine minutes, taking advantage of poor Florida shooting.

The Gators were 9-of-35 (25.7 percent) in the first half. Alabama led 35-24 at the break.

"We didn't have the ball movement and the player movement that we had had in the course of the year," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "But I thought the defense and rebounding in the first half kept us somewhat close. I was pleasantly surprised that we were only down 11."

The Gators, who never led, eased back into the game in the second half, closing to within three points at 52-49 when Lee Humphrey nailed a 3-pointer with 8:50 left. Humphrey's five 3-pointers in the second half almost single-handedly kept the Gators in the game.

"I thought I was in for another Patrick Sparks like last year the way he was shooting it," Gottfried said.

Kentucky's Sparks hit five 3-pointers and scored 26 at Coleman last year.

But every time Humphrey came up big, it seemed as if Alabama got an easy bucket on the other end. Florida didn't get any closer than four points in the closing minutes.

"It was a tale for us defensively where we weren't able to get enough rebounds and stops," Donovan said.

Alabama outrebounded the Gators 42-33, including a 25-13 advantage on Florida's offensive end. "Hendrix today was a big key on the backboard," Gottfried said.

Ronald Steele led five Alabama players in double figures, with 19 points. In addition to Davidson's 16, Jean Felix scored 14 points, including three 3-pointers. Hendrix and Alonzo Gee each had 11 points.

Taurean Green led five Florida players in double figures with 20.

After starting 17-0, Florida is 5-6 since and has lost three straight. But the Gators, at 22-6 overall and 8-6 in the league, are considered a lock for a tournament bid even though their projected seeding is tumbling.

"Florida's a team we're going to watch advance through the tournament," Gottfried said.

The question is whether Florida will be watching Alabama in March. Donovan stopped short of saying the Tide should be included, but gave his compliments.

"I believe that based on our league, and we've played everyone right now once, they're as good as everybody in the league," Donovan said. "Alabama probably deserves to be in along with a lot of other people."

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