After a slight stumble in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge just over a week ago, No. 3 Alabama has climbed one spot in the national rankings and remains atop the Southeastern Conference.
Unbeaten in SEC play, coach Nate Oats’ Crimson Tide (20-3, 10-0 SEC) will host the Florida Gators on Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa in the only regular-season matchup between the rivals.
Since a 93-69 blowout loss to Oklahoma a couple of Saturdays ago, Alabama has rebounded with a pair of solid wins. At home, it demolished an inconsistent Vanderbilt side, 101-44 on Jan. 31, then went to Baton Rouge on Saturday and topped LSU 79-69.
In the latter win, Noah Clowney and Rylan Griffen led a balanced scoring attack with 14 points apiece as five Crimson Tide cagers netted double figures. Freshman star Brandon Miller contributed 11 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Nimari Burnett had 13 points, three rebounds and three assists.
For the most part, Alabama had to grind out the triumph in the bayou, but Oats said winning contests like the one over the weekend go a long way for teams seeking a conference title.
“It was definitely not one of our better wins, but sometimes when you compete for a league championship you go on the road and win games that are not pretty and are ugly,” Oats said. “I thought we had some guys step up; that is back-to-back games that Nimari has played really well for us. And Rylan shot the ball really well tonight, so it was good to see some guys step up.
“I thought our defense was nowhere close to where we’d like it to be, but I thought late in the game we got some stops when we needed to.”
Alabama improved to 10-0 in the SEC standings for the second time in three seasons and third time overall in school history.
Following a 67-54 upset of No. 2 Tennessee on Feb. 1, Florida (13-10, 6-4) battled back late Saturday but dropped a 72-67 decision at Kentucky — a hard blow to the Gators’ hopes of March Madness participation.
The wire-to-wire defeat dropped Florida to 2-8 in Quadrant I matches in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) category. It also fell to 11-54 against the Wildcats in Lexington and placed first-year coach Todd Golden’s group alone in sixth place in the SEC standings.
Colin Castleton outplayed Kentucky big man Oscar Tshiebwe, the 2022 SEC and NCAA Player of the Year. Castleton had 25 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Tshiebwe had a season-low four points and 15 boards before fouling out.
Suddenly, beating the third-ranked Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa appears to fall under the designation of must-win.
Castleton said the Gators — 3-4 in away games — have to be more focused when they hit the road.
“We’re on the road. It’s a tough environment. You can’t dig a hole,” said the fifth-year senior. “It’s something we’ve dealt with all year, whether it’s guys missing wide-open layups or in the case of this game, transition (defense).”
Alabama has won the past two meetings in the series.
–Field Level Media