The SECret is out


Published: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 3:53 a.m.
ATHENS, Ga. - The talk before Saturday centered around the Southeastern Conference being a new season for the Gators.
Yet Florida played its SEC opener like the team that had won its first 13 non-conference games. With balanced scoring, baskets in transition and outside shooting from Lee Humphrey, the fifth-ranked Gators (14-0, 1-0 SEC) raced to a 90-72 win at Georgia to serve notice to the rest of the league that their start wasn't a fluke.
Assuredly, Florida will move up to No. 3 in both polls when the new rankings are released Monday afternoon.
"That's great, but at the same time we have to be humble because we know anything can happen," said forward Joakim Noah, who scored several of his career-high 24 points on the break.
Humphrey also reached a career-high with 18 points, scoring nine straight during an early second-half spurt that put the game away. Taurean Green added 21 points and five of Florida's 20 assists.
It was clear early that the Gators wanted to run. Florida jumped to a quick 16-5 lead with Noah scoring nine of those points in transition. But Georgia chipped away during a 5:29 Florida scoreless stretch, taking a short-lived 18-17 lead after two Younes Irdissi free throws.
The score remained tight for much of the first half, with Georgia's eight offensive rebounds leading to 16 second-chance points. Two Florida steals and a Green 3-pointer sparked a late 8-0 first half run, allowing the Gators a little breathing room going into halftime up 38-33.
Florida coach Billy Donovan made it a priority to control the offensive boards and take care of the basketball in the second half. Georgia forced 11 Florida first-half turnovers.
"I felt like we left a lot of points out there, because we shot 52 percent from the field and turned the ball over so many times," Donovan said.
The second half for Florida began with a designed play. Humphrey made a pretty back-door cut and scored underneath as Georgia center Dave Bliss hacked him. Humphrey made the free throw to convert the 3-point play, then sank two more open 3-pointers on consecutive trips down the floor to extend Florida's lead to 47-35.
"I was feeling it a little bit," Humphrey said. "I was in a good rhythm with my shot."
"Hump had a big game," Green said. "That's his deal, knocking down threes, playing good defense."
Humphrey, who came into the game fourth in the NCAA in 3-point accuracy at 55.6 percent, was 5 of 10 from beyond the arc.
"We certainly talked about not giving Humphrey any quality looks," Georgia coach Dennis Felton said. "It's hard to understand why he was able to get so many open shots."
Defensively, Florida was able to contain Georgia's guards. Levi Stukes, who came into the game with a 13.3 career average against Florida, scored just 7 on 2-of-6 shooting. Steve Newman led the Bulldogs (10-4, 0-1 SEC) with 15 points, with Sundiata Gaines and freshman forward Terrance Woodbury adding 14 apiece.
Florida exploited Georgia's help defense, finding open players throughout the final 20 minutes to roll up 52 second-half points. Noah continued to score on the break. Florida ended with a 37-34 rebounding advantage, with UF sophomore center Al Horford (15 points, 11 rebounds) posting his third double-double of the season.
"Georgia is a pressure team," Donovan said. "What we wanted to do as much as possible was attack the basket. They can get you playing east-west. We wanted to play north-south."
The ability of Florida's big men to run and finish wore Georgia down.
"Even when I don't score, I feel like I'm doing my job when I see my opponents get tired," Noah said.
"It opens up drives to the basket," Humphrey said. "We know any time that we can push it. Taurean did a great job setting the tempo."
The win matched a school record for consecutive wins at 14, with the 2002-03 team the last to achieve the feat. That streak ended with Florida, as the No. 1 ranked team in the country, losing at Kentucky.
Florida can break the streak with a win Wednesday at home against Mississippi State. For SEC openers, Saturday was promising. Florida extended its win streak in SEC openers to five games.
"I couldn't think of a better way to start," Humphrey said. "Any win in the SEC on the road is a big win."
You can reach Kevin Brockway by calling 374-5054 or by e-mail at brockwk@gvillesun.com.

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