Gators tune up Liberty
Published: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
In its final tuneup before Southeastern Conference play, No. 3 Florida finally had its starting lineup back intact.
Bad news for Liberty. With junior forward Joakim Noah leading four players in double figures with 15 points, the Gators (13-2) swiftly and effectively dispatched the Flames 89-58 before 10,775 Tuesday at the O'Connell Center.
Florida junior center Al Horford, making his first start since Dec. 6 against Providence, added 12 points and 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season. Horford approached Billy Donovan in practice Monday and told him he felt 100 percent after playing through a nagging high ankle sprain against Ohio State and UAB.
"I felt ready to help the team." Horford said. "I didn't want to start the last two games because I didn't want to let the team down."
Horford played the first seven and a half minutes without incident, piling up eight points and five rebounds inside.
"I felt good out there," Horford said. "No problems."
Barring any unforeseen problems between now and Saturday, Florida should have its starting five ready for the SEC opener against Georgia at the O'Connell Center.
"It's good to have the big guy back," said junior forward Corey Brewer, who added 14 points, four assists and three steals. "Anytime you have your starting five back, that helps. I think we're ready now for the SEC."
For Florida, it was the first time the returning five starters from its national championship team were on the court to start the game together since its 82-80 overtime loss Nov. 25 against Kansas. Even then, Brewer wasn't 100 percent with the flu that developed into mononucleosis.
"Our injury problems have been well-documented," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We've dealt with them and have fought through them."
The five starters back together was a welcome sight, even if there was a scare late. Point guard Taurean Green knocked knees with Liberty's Dwight Brewington while chasing a loose ball with 7:43 left and Florida up 27 points. Green left the game and wore an icepack on his left knee, but said in postgame interviews he felt fine.
Donovan left his starters in to build some continuity that had been lost with so many injuries the last month.
"I wanted to give them four to five solid minutes of work," Donovan said. "We have had so many injuries, Jo, Al, Corey, that you want to continue to rebuild that chemistry."
Green continued his torrid shooting, going 5-of-6 from the floor and 2-of-3 from the free throw line to finish with 14 points. Green had made 19 of his last 29 from the floor and extended his made free throws streak to 27 with two more Tuesday night.
With Horford and Noah back on the floor at the same time early, Florida scored 16 of its first 20 points in the paint to build a 20-9 lead. For the game, Florida scored 52 points in the paint against the undersized Flames. Liberty's tallest starter, 6-foot-8 Alex McLean, was saddled with two early fouls.
"We want to do that every game," Green said. "We have the best bigs in America. We want to get them the ball so we can work inside-out."
The score could have been worse, had it not been for a dismal shooting night from the free throw line (15-of-30) and 18 turnovers. But Donovan was pleased with the quick start.
"We've had a lot of games this season where we've gotten off to slow starts," Donovan said. "We talked about that. I thought tonight we came out with good energy, good focus."
Donovan said that Florida coach Urban Meyer invited him to the BCS Championship game Monday, but he declined. "I just didn't feel like it was right to travel across the country when we have games to prepare for," Donovan said. ... Florida plays Tuesday at home against Arkansas, the night after the title game in Glendale, Ariz.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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