Gators slug past Hogs


Published: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

During last season's national basketball championship celebration, Florida junior Joakim Noah proclaimed, "now it's time for the football team to do it, too."

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UF's Taurean Green tries to get by Arkansas forward Charles Thomas in the first half.

ALEXANDER COHN/The Gainesville Sun

With the football mission accomplished Monday night, the onus fell back to the basketball team to extend Florida's current string of sports dominance. Despite some early foul problems, No. 2 Florida (15-2) didn't disappoint, beating Arkansas 79-72 to extend its win streak to eight games and improve to 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play.

In front of a frenzied sellout at the O'Connell Center that raised the decibel level even louder after the football team was introduced at halftime, Florida overcame a third straight shoddy game from the free throw line by sinking some clutch 3-pointers late.

Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green hit consecutive 3-pointers to put Florida ahead 65-56, and Florida closed the game out by making six of its last nine free-throw attempts.

Florida coach Billy Donovan said he wasn't concerned about the emotion of the halftime football ceremony becoming a distraction.

"I think what the football team did last night is a valuable lesson to us," Donovan said. "They were fighting for respect kind of like we were fighting for respect last year. Now, we're the Ohio State (football) of college basketball ... it just shows that you have to remain humble and hungry and even though at times we haven't played well this season, I think we've maintained that hunger so far."

All five starters reached double-figures, with Green leading the way with 17 points and three assists. Corey Brewer scored 13 points, with Noah and Humphrey each scoring 11 and Al Horford finishing with 10 points and five rebounds.

Arkansas actually took a short-lived lead, 55-54, when freshman Patrick Beverley cooly sank a 3-pointer with 10:51 left. But after Noah wrestled away a rebound from Arkansas forward Vincent Hunter, Humphrey hit a soft jumper in the lane to give Florida a 56-55 lead it held the rest of the game.

Florida capitalized on the emotion of the crowd early, jumping to a 18-6 lead before the foul trouble started. Noah picked up his second foul at the 11:04 mark of the first half. Horford picked up his second foul with 8:31 remaining, and senior center Chris Richard was out with two fouls at the 11:15 mark.

Arkansas (12-4, 1-1 SEC), coming off a 27-point home upset of Alabama, attacked the basket throughout the game with its revolving stable of big men. Backup 6-foot-11 center Darian Townes came off the bench to score a team-high 18 points.

"We knew they were going to come out and take the ball to the basket," Horford said. "There were just some dumb fouls on our part. We made some adjustments and played better in the second half."

Said Noah: "There were some (expletive) calls. I know that's bad to say, but I felt like there were two phantom calls against me. Sitting those 11 minutes was hard because I wanted to be out there to help the team."

With its entire frontcourt in foul trouble, Florida turned to its bench. Freshman center Marreese Speights provided valuable minutes underneath, with four points and five rebounds in 10 minutes. Florida, which scored just four points off the bench in its season opener against Georgia, scored 17 points off the bench Tuesday night.

"I thought our freshmen did a good job, particularly offensively, keeping us in the game in the first half," Donovan said.

But while Florida was able to sustain some offense without its starters, it was unable to handle Arkansas inside on the defensive end. The Razorbacks scored four straight baskets on dunks inside, closing the Florida lead to 37-34 on a Sonny Weems dunk with 34.8 seconds left.

Then, after Brewer inexplicably launched a 3-pointer with four seconds left, point guard Gary Ervin raced down the court to score a tip-in at the buzzer to cut the Florida lead to 37-36 at halftime.

Again, Florida struggled from the free throw line, early, making just four of nine attempts in the first half. For the game, Florida was 17 of 29 from the line, its third straight game under 60 percent.

"We're trying different things in practice," Donovan said. "I think our guys are aware of it. I just think some of our guys need to get in on their own to take some extra free throws."

Contact Kevin Brockway at 374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com.

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