10th straight win finds UF on all cylinders

Published: Thursday, January 16, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 11:44 p.m.

Looking down the bench at a feast of talent, Billy Donovan could've passed on the Danish.

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Florida's Brett Nelson wrestles with Tennessee's Derek Stribling for a loose ball during the second half Wednesday

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun


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  • Florida travels to face South Carolina at 8 p.m Saturday night at the Carolina Arena in Columbia, S.C. The Gators have won their last three meetings with the Gamecocks.

  • Wednesday night's game marked the debut of Denmark-native Christian Drejer. After two months nursing an ankle injury Drejer finally played, but didn't score in five minutes of action. After the half, Drejer sat on the bench with a heating pad on his ankle and his sweatpants in his hand. Drejer returned late in the game and finished with four points.

    Drejer playing at all is nothing but good news for Florida. But as far as making a huge impact in his first game, it didn't happen.

    It was OK, Drejer wasn't expected to have a huge impact, and on Wednesday, the Gators didn't need it.

    Matt Bonner scored a season-high 25 points to lead No. 6 Florida to an easy 77-64 win over Tennessee in front of a capacity crowd of 12,495 at the O'Connell Center.

    Drejer may have been the story, but Bonner was the show. The senior captain shot 9 for 14 from the field and hit five 3-pointers while also playing tough defense on Tennessee standout Ron Slay.

    "Matt Bonner played an exceptional game on both sides of the floor," Donovan said. "It tells you what kind of stamina he has when he can go get 25 and play that kind of defense."

    Bonner and Slay have played against each other since AAU ball in high school, and while Slay doesn't usually have too many good things to say about his opponents, he was quick to praise Bonner.

    "He hit all those with a hand in his face," Slay said. "He was 5 for 7? That's pretty good."

    Slay led the Vols (8-4, 1-2 in the SEC) with 17 points, but was 7 of 24 from the field and 1 for 8 from 3-point range.

    "There were a lot of open looks that didn't go down," Slay said.

    Tennessee couldn't stop any aspect of Florida's frontcourt. While Bonner shredded the Vols defense, David Lee also chipped in 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.

    "Matt Bonner is just an unbelievable player," Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson said. "He's just too hard to guard. David Lee has improved. They've gone to him some inside and he's got a nice touch in there."

    The Gators (14-2, 3-0) very quietly had a very solid game. Florida shot 10 for 19 from 3-point range. Even Brett Nelson got into the groove with a season-high 13 points. Jon Higgins had 14 and C.J. Watson had 12 for Tennessee.

    "It's not one of our worst games, but it's up there," Higgins said. "We didn't play well at all."

    Donovan's plan had been to try to ease Drejer into the mix in Wednesday's game. While Drejer looked a bit out of place in the first half, he seemed to play a bit better when he returned after sitting out most of the second half. Drejer said he wasn't having any problems with his ankle.

    "I was fine," Drejer said. "I was just trying to stay warm."

    Drejer scored the first points of his college career on a free throw with 1:20 left in the game. It may have been a little anticlimactic, but it was a relief.

    "Of course it felt great," Drejer said. "It's been some really long weeks and it's just a great feeling to be on the floor again."

    Donovan said he didn't want to overwhelm Drejer by asking too much of him too soon.

    "I didn't want to overwhelm him and put him in a situation where he felt uncomfortable," Donovan said. "This is his first college basketball game, I just wanted to get his feet wet."

    The win was the 10th in a row for the Gators and with the way Florida has been playing, Donovan has the luxury of being able to ease Drejer into the rotation. With Bonner and Lee playing so well and Nelson finally beginning to resemble the player he was the last two seasons, the Gators are playing as well as anyone in the conference.

    "I thought our guys played with a lot of energy," Donovan said. "When we subbed, that's when we got our lead. That enabled us to open the game up."

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