Florida's first-round exit from the Southeastern Conference tournament left the Gators with a four-game losing streak, shaky NCAA Tournament credentials, and a gloomy prediction from their coach.
Mykal Riley and Alabama built a big first-half lead and beat the Gators, 80-69, last night to end Florida's three-year run as SEC tournament champions.
The fall from the top of the SEC seemed to be the least of Florida coach Billy Donovan's worries. The two-time defending national champion Gators (21-11) may be left out of this year's NCAA field, and Donovan says changes must come if his young team can return to prominence.
Florida started two freshmen and two sophomores, and three of the team's top four reserves are freshmen. Donovan didn't sound encouraged by what normally would be an encouraging sign for the future.
"It's hard for me to be excited going forward because I don't see things getting fixed," Donovan said. "It's in front of our guys, what it takes to win. For whatever reason, I haven't brought it out in them. They're not committed to it . . . I'm not really excited about seeing this group of guys being sophomores."
The Crimson Tide (17-15) had a 28-point lead shrink to 6 before recovering to beat Florida.
Riley tied the school record with eight 3-pointers and finished with 26 points.
Alabama ended Florida's streak of 18 consecutive postseason victories over two years while giving the Gators their first SEC tournament loss since the 2004 championship game.
In other opening-round games: Dave Bliss banked in a shot with 0.4 seconds left in overtime, giving Georgia a 97-95 upset of Mississippi (21-10) and perhaps ruining the Rebels' hopes of getting into the NCAA Tournament . . . A.J. Ogilvy scored a career-best 27 points and Shan Foster added 26, leading No. 18 Vanderbilt (26-6) past Auburn, 93-82 . . . South Carolina broke open a tight game with a 19-5 run and Dave Odom's retirement plans were put on hold as the Gamecocks (14-17) beat LSU, 77-73.
Big 12 - Richard Roby scored 8 of his 32 points in the second overtime and Colorado put a dent in Baylor's NCAA Tournament hopes with a surprising 91-84 win in opening-round play in Kansas City, Mo. Colorado (12-19) jumped out to a big early lead, withstood a furious Baylor rally in the second half, then made just enough shots in both overtimes to become the first 12 seed to beat a 5 seed in the 12-year history of the Big 12 tournament. Baylor (21-10) won more than 20 games for just the fourth time in 102 years of basketball, seemingly enough to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years. Still, the Bears wanted to get at least one win in the Big 12 tournament to feel safe . . . James Anderson scored 18 points and hit the game-clinching free throws with four seconds to go, lifting Oklahoma State to a 76-72 win over Texas Tech (16-15) for its sixth win in eight games. Pat Knight, after taking over for his father, Bob, Feb. 4, was 4-7 as the Red Raiders' head coach . . . Donald Sloan and Dominique Kirk had 12 points each, and Texas A&M (23-9) improved its NCAA Tournament hopes with a 60-47 victory over Iowa State.
Pac-10 - Freshman O.J. Mayo scored 23 points, and Southern California turned up its defense down the stretch to beat Arizona State, 59-55, in quarterfinal-round play in Los Angeles. The win was the sixth in seven games for the fourth-seeded Trojans (21-10), who likely assured themselves of an NCAA Tournament berth with the win. It appeared that fifth-seeded ASU (19-12) needed at least one victory in the Pac-10 tournament to earn its first NCAA Tournament berth in five years . . . No. 3 UCLA (29-3) buried California under a barrage of 3-pointers to start the second half on its way to an 88-66 victory. Darren Collison scored 19 points and Josh Shipp 18 as the Bruins had their best 3-point-shooting game of the season, hitting 14 of 25 . . . Derrick Low scored 18 points, and No. 21 Washington State (24-7) blew most of a 20-point lead before beating Oregon, 75-70 . . . Brook Lopez had 20 points and 15 rebounds, including 10 in a second-half spurt that helped No. 11 Stanford (25-6) pull away to a 75-64 victory over Arizona (19-14).
Conference USA - Chris Douglas-Roberts scored 17 points, and No. 2 Memphis advanced to the semifinals by routing Tulane, 75-56, on the Tigers' home floor. Memphis (31-1), the two-time defending tournament champ, is trying to lock down a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons . . . Jerome Jordan scored 23 points and grabbed 17 rebounds to lead Tulsa (19-12) to a 78-68 overtime upset over second-seeded UAB (22-10) . . . Stefon Jackson hit a jumper with 11 seconds left that put the Miners ahead to stay, and UTEP (19-12) upset No. 3 seed Houston (22-9), 80-77 . . . R.L. Horton scored 18 points to lead Southern Mississippi (19-13) to a 68-62 victory over No. 4 seed Central Florida, capping a quarterfinal round in which the 2, 3, and 4 seeds lost.
Big Ten - In Indianapolis, Chester Frazier's reverse layup with 3.8 seconds left gave Illinois a 64-63 win over Penn State (15-16), helping the
Western Athletic - Reggie Larry scored 16 of his 26 points in the second half and Boise State (23-8) survived a shaky start, beating Hawaii, 80-74, in the quarterfinals in Las Cruces, N.M. . . . Jaycee Carroll scored 24 points as top-seeded Utah State (24-9) beat San Jose State, 85-65.
Mountain West - No. 24 Brigham Young (26-6) had five sharpshooters reach double figures, led by Lee Cummard's 18 points, as the Cougars shot 65 percent in their 89-62 rout of Colorado State in the semifinals at Las Vegas.
Mid-American - Mike Scott scored 23 points and top-seeded Kent State padded an already impressive NCAA Tournament résumé with a 77-57 win over Toledo in the quarterfinals in Cleveland. The Golden Flashes came in with 25 regular-season wins, a MAC title, and an RPI in the top 30, but they are not guaranteed a spot in the NCAA field.