Alabama needs win in SEC rematch against Florida

Trevor Releford hopes to end Alabama's skid against Florida. (USATSI)

Convinced Florida would switch on every ball screen during a last-second play in the semifinals of the 2012 SEC Tournament, Alabama coach Anthony Grant instructed forward JaMychal Green to set a down screen to free Trevor Lacey for a potential game-tying 3-pointer.

The Crimson Tide guard went around the screen and received a clean look at the basket, but short-armed his attempt as the Gators prevailed 66-63 at New Orleans Arena. In six consecutive defeats to Florida, the defeat was arguably the most stinging for Grant’s team.

After a stifling defensive display in Friday’s 58-48 win over Tennessee, Alabama (21-11) will receive another shot at redemption. With the Crimson Tide’s NCAA tournament hopes squarely on the bubble, Alabama may need a victory over the No. 13 Gators in the SEC Semifinals to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

A key matchup on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville will be down low where Alabama sophomore forward Nick Jacobs will look to neutralize Florida hulking center Patric Young. Jacobs often fronted Jarnell Stokes in the 10-point victory, limiting the Volunteers’ forward to 13 points on 4 of 9 shooting. On the other end, Jacobs has emerged as an offensive threat. In the span of a minute midway through the second half, Jacobs hit a turnaround, right-handed hook, forced a charge on Tennessee guard Jordan McRae and followed a Lacey miss to give the Crimson Tide a 50-41 lead.

Jacobs did it all despite playing through nagging back spasms that have persisted throughout the season. The injury limited Jacobs’ strength, causing him to lose close to 15 pounds. Crimson Tide trainers helped treat it with a combination of stretching, medication and electric stimulation. Only recently has Jacobs returned to his normal playing weight. The pain subsided for three days this week before it reappeared on Friday morning.

“When I woke up the pain just inflamed my back,” Jacobs said. “The first thing I did at eight o’clock this morning was I went straight to my trainers’ room and did treatments for the game. It helped loosen up my back.”

Another daunting challenge for Alabama on Saturday will be closing out on Erik Murphy and Florida’s perimeter shooters when the Crimson Tide try to confound the Gators with their vaunted 2-3 zone. Despite a swollen knee, Murphy canned five threes en route to a career-high 27 points in an 80-58 quarterfinals win over LSU. The 6-10 senior forward suffered the injury during a pick and roll drill in Wednesday’s practice.

“It was really bizarre,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “It wasn’t even a contact drill, it was more of a teaching drill. I kind of planted his foot and went to turn. He had kind of a sharp pain. That night he started to feel progressively better, there was nothing on the MRI.”

In last year’s SEC Tournament victory, Florida prevailed despite finishing 10 of 30 from 3-point range. Murphy went 1 of 5 from beyond-the-arc. In their last four matchups against Alabama, the Gators have emerged with victories despite shooting less than 35 percent on 3-point attempts. The Crimson Tide has held Florida guard Kenny Boynton to 11 of 29 on 3-pointers during that span. The Gators enter the matchup ranked 15th in Division I in 3-point field goals made (8.4) and 28th in 3-point field goal percentage (38.2).

“Florida is just a smart team, we know they’re going to make the extra pass,” Alabama guard Trevor Releford said. “We are a very active team when we’re out there moving and talking. We can get steals, deflections and get out in transition.”

Alabama is primed to avoid heartbreak when the brackets are revealed.

“If we take care of what we need to take care of here, we get a championship,” Releford said. “It will be automatic.”

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