GAINESVILLE — The clampdown defense that has defined the team all season wasn't working well, the offense had stalled midway through the first half, and an opponent with a losing record had given the No. 3 Gators all they could handle.
But when it counted most, Florida found just enough defense, and it shot 62 percent from the field to earn a 78-69 win over Alabama in front of 12,520 at the O'Connell Center on Saturday afternoon.
"It definitely was a tough win," Florida senior guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "They weren't going to give it to us easy."
The Gators (21-2, 10-0 SEC) are off to the second-best start in school history and have won 15 consecutive games overall and 29 in a row at home. It was the 105th win for UF's senior class.
"It's always good to win when we play as bad as we did, especially in the first half," senior forward Casey Prather said. "I think in the second half we did a good job learning and growing from the first half."
Alabama (9-14, 3-7), which has lost six of seven including a six-point loss to the Gators at home in late January, scored a season-high 36 first-half points against Florida defense allowing 22.1 points in the first half. The Tide shot 55 percent in the game, aided by senior guard Trevor Releford's game-high 25 points.
"No, it was not a good defensive game for us," senior center Patric Young said. "We could have done a lot better job, especially in guarding Releford. That's not our defense at all. We gave up too many easy baskets and let them score too many points. But they're a good team, and they did a lot of things that we couldn't handle."
After opening 7-of-7 from the field, Florida went without a field goal for seven minutes midway through the half while the Tide went on a 16-4 run. The score was tied at 36 at halftime, the most points UF has given up in one half at home all season.
"I thought we were bad (defensively) the whole game," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We were not where we needed to be, but thank God we had some offense today that helped us. I thought Alabama did a really good job in the game of putting us in some binds, and we fouled entirely too much in the second half; we put them at the free-throw line 19 times. They attacked us very well."
UF's 25-8 run gave it a lead Alabama couldn't overcome with 8:46 left in the game.
"Florida's at their best when they're in transition," said Alabama coach Anthony Grant, a former assistant under Donovan who is now 0-8 against his ex-boss. "Our guys battled and fought back, but from an offensive standpoint they took us out of some things that we were able to get there in the first half."