<
>

Steele scores 19 to bolster Alabama's Tourney hopes

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Diving, leaping and scrambling, Alabama
kept coming up with the rebounds and loose balls.

Jermareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix dominated inside and came
up with three key plays on the offensive boards in the final minute
to counter Florida's (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today; No. 12 AP) 3-point barrage in the Crimson Tide's
82-77 victory on Sunday.

Hendrix saved one ball off a missed free throw, then drew a foul
battling for another offensive board. When he missed both attempts
from the line, Davidson dove for the rebound and called a quick
timeout with 37 seconds left.

The Tide (16-10, 9-5 Southeastern Conference) went 6-for-6 from
the line after that. The Gators (22-6, 8-6) left with their third
consecutive defeat -- by a combined 13 points -- despite a late
onslaught that included Taurean Green's six points over the final
13 seconds.

"They've done that all year," said Richard Steele, who had 19
points and seven assists for the Tide. "We knew they were capable
and were coming off a loss. Coach kept reminding us to finish them
off. We knew they weren't going to give up. I think our guys did
good job of finishing."

Alabama (16-10, 9-5 Southeastern Conference) further boosted its
NCAA Tournament resume with its third straight win over a ranked
team, including last weekend's home victory over Tennessee (No. 11 ESPN/USA Today; No. 10 AP).

Coach Mark Gottfried mostly declined to tout his team's
postseason chances, but couldn't resist pointing out the Tide's
wins over SEC rivals Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky and LSU. Alabama
lost at Arkansas last week, the team's chief contender for the No.
2 Western Division seed.

"We've got work to do, and our team understands that,"
Gottfried said. "But we've beaten the top 3 teams in the East and
we've beaten the top teams in the West. Our team's done some good
things, but the bottom line is we need to keep winning basketball
games."

Davidson had 16 points and 10 rebounds for Alabama, while
Hendrix had 11 points and a career-high 17 boards.

The Gators trailed for almost the entire game after making just
9-of-35 shots in the first half. They fell into a tie with Kentucky
for the No. 2 spot in the SEC East, which comes with a first-round
bye in the conference tournament.

Brandon Hollinger's two free throws with 11 seconds left ended
any comeback threat.

Both teams had five players score in double figures, with Green
and Lee Humphrey bringing the Gators back with 3s.

Green scored 20 points and hit three second-half 3-pointers
while all 15 of Humphrey's points came on 3s over the final 9:44.
Green even hit three free throws and a 3-pointer in the final 13
seconds to spark one last-gasp rally.

Florida cut it to 75-71 on Humphrey's 3 from the right corner
with 1:17 left. Steele, Davidson and Hollinger hit two free throws
apiece to push the lead to 80-71.

Green sandwiched his two three-point plays between Hollinger's
free throws.

"You can't let it wear you down," Green said. "We've got to
start coming up with rebounds when we need them, and we've got to
reach down deep."

Not everything went well for the Tide late. Jean Felix tried to
punctuate the win with a breakaway dunk off an inbounds pass in the
final seconds but missed it.

Felix had 14 points and Gee 11 for the Tide, which outrebounded
Florida 42-33.

Joakim Noah and Al Horford had 12 points apiece and Corey Brewer
finished with 11 for the Gators.

The Tide took advantage of Florida's poor shooting to build a
35-24 halftime lead. Hendrix grabbed an offensive rebound -- his
10th board of the half -- and passed back to Steele for a bank shot
with 7 seconds left.

"I just felt like our guys were playing with blinders on,"
Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We weren't taking what the
defense was giving us. I don't think our 3-point shots were that
bad in the first half."

The Gators made 8-of-15 from 3-point range and 15-of-16 at the
line in the second half to rally from an early 12-point deficit.