Sunday, December 17, 2017
Sports

Florida Gators hold on against Albany in NCAA opener

ORLANDO — The scoreboard indicated a victory for the Florida Gators, but the locker room had the distinct feel of a really bad loss.

Shortly after No. 1 seed Florida survived No. 16 Albany with a 67-55 victory Thursday in front of 16,074 at the Amway Center in the second round of the NCAA Tournament South Region, the Gators were lamenting a disappointing performance while thankful to be playing another day.

Florida (33-2), which has won 27 consecutive games, plays No. 9 Pittsburgh (27-9) at 12:15 p.m. Saturday in the third round. And for Florida coach Billy Donovan, the message to his team — particularly his four senior starters — was that another game like Thursday might end their record-breaking season far short of expectations.

"He said we're lucky to get one more and if we play like we did tonight, that'll be the last one we'll get," senior guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "We've just got to flush this game, move on the next game and get ready for Pitt."

Florida led 34-28 at halftime after 11 lead changes. Albany (19-15) shot 66 percent from the field early in the first half, and the Gators struggled to contain guard DJ Evans, who had a game-high 21 points. UF outscored Albany 38-12 in the paint and 26-2 off the bench, but it never seemed in command of the game.

"We were not as connected as a group defensively as we've been up to this point in time, and we've been a great defensive team," Donovan said. "Today we were not a great defensive team."

Albany's triangle-and-two defense stymied the Gators, who shot 25 percent on 3-pointers. Florida guards Michael Frazier and Wilbekin combined to go 2-of-8 from beyond the arc.

Frazier, a Tampa native, took just five shots.

"We had all sorts of names for him: Ray Allen, Jesus Shuttlesworth," Albany coach Will Brown said. "He has the smoothest stroke since Ray Allen. We were determined not to let him get a free look."

With the score tied at 39 with 14:32 remaining, Florida opened a 12-3 run to finally pull away, aided by stellar play from freshman guard Kasey Hill (10 points). But the victory led to more soul searching than celebration.

"We've got to put this game in the past, we can't do anything about it now," Frazier said. "We know that this is not going to get it done against Pittsburgh, so we're going to have to fix it in a hurry.''

Talking about Pitt leading Colorado by 28 at halftime, Frazier said: "That could be us if we don't get this thing fixed."

Added center Patric Young, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds: "We just look at each other and say, we know that there's more inside of us, more that we need to give. … Hopefully we can come in the next game with a better mind-set, better focus."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

   
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