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No. 13 Florida defeats Alabama 61-51 in SEC semis

Saturday - 3/16/2013, 11:16pm  ET

Alabama guard Trevor Lacey (5) and Florida's Erik Murphy (33) vie for a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference tournament, Saturday, March 16, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Florida finally showed it can win a close game. All it takes is for senior guard Kenny Boynton to answer his coach's challenge.

Held scoreless for the first 25 minutes, Boynton had 11 straight points during a critical 15-0 run Saturday as No. 13 Florida erased a 10-point, second-half deficit to beat Alabama 61-51 in a Southeastern Conference semifinal.

Boynton said he benefited from Gators coach Billy Donovan's halftime message to him. The senior guard's second-half surge helped Florida end its season-long frustration in close games.

"He challenged me to come out and play with confidence," Boynton said. "Honestly he did challenge me, and I think I tried to step up to it."

The top-seeded Gators (26-6) advanced to the championship game Sunday against No. 3 seed Mississippi (25-8), which defeated Vanderbilt 64-52 in the other semifinal. Alabama (21-12), the tournament's No. 4 seed, will spend Sunday waiting to learn its fate from the NCAA tournament selection committee.

Most mock brackets had Alabama on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble at the start of the week. Alabama went 12-6 in conference play during the regular season but hurt its cause by going 1-5 in December, including home nonconference losses to Mercer and Tulane.

"I'll just go to sleep, wake up tomorrow and see what they choose," Alabama guard Trevor Lacey said. "Whatever they choose, we go from there."

Boynton scored all 16 of his points during a 7-minute span. Patric Young had 13 points and nine rebounds for the Gators. Mike Rosario added 10 points. Trevor Releford scored 12 points, and Nick Jacobs and Lacey each added 11 for Alabama.

Alabama led 37-27 with 16:05 remaining before Florida reeled off 15 straight points over the next 5 minutes. In the lone regular-season meeting between the two teams, Florida rallied from eight points down in the final 12
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