Noah critical of recent play


Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Joakim Noah sat on a metal folding chair outside the locker room moments after Florida's 86-76 loss at Tennessee late Wednesday night.

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Joakim Noah loses control of the ball as he falls on Tennessee's Ramar Smith during Tuesday's game at Tennessee

The Associated Press

His shoulders were sunken. The preseason muscle that the 6-foot-11 forward added to his arms appeared longer and less defined.

What's wrong with Noah? Is he wearing down? That's been the question on the mind of many who follow the fifth-ranked Gators.

"Physically, I feel fine," Noah said.

Mentally?

"I don't feel like I've been contributing the way I should," Noah said. "I take some of the blame for that. At the end of the day, though, it's about us as a team getting through this."

Several factors have contributed to Florida's recent 1-3 slide, but one of the most glaring has been Noah's lack of productivity. In the last three games, Noah hasn't reached double-figures in scoring, averaging 6.0 points and 9.0 rebounds.

On Tuesday night, Noah didn't get his first basket until 11:59 remaining, but showed signs of life late, finishing with eight points and 11 rebounds. That Florida rallied from a 27-point deficit to cut Tennessee's lead to eight points during the stretch wasn't a coincidence. Throughout the past two seasons, Noah's energy has translated into Florida energy.

In earning Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors last season, Noah set an NCAA Tournament record with 29 blocked shots in six games. This season, Noah has blocked 52 shots through 30 games.

For the season, Noah is averaging 12.0 points and 8.1 rebounds, respectable numbers, but not what some envisioned heading into the season. On Wednesday, Noah was named one of five finalists for the Oscar Robertson Award, given to the top overall player in college basketball by the United States Basketball Writers' Association. Teammate Al Horford, who is having a better statistical season, is not on the list that includes Ohio State center Greg Oden, Texas forward Kevin Durant, Wisconsin forward Alondo Tucker and North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough.

Some have wondered about fatigue. Noah has been fumbling passes in the post of late, and reaching for rebounds with one hand instead of two, signs of a tiring player. Or a player with a lot on his mind.

Noah, considered a consensus No. 1 NBA Draft pick if he left school last season, stayed instead. Current projections still have Noah as an NBA lottery pick, but his stock is slipping.

"I'm sure there's a lot on his plate," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "And you can make those excuses. Joakim's definitely a competitor, but he needs to know that when you put that jersey on, and you step across the lines and play, there are no excuses. You need to go out and do your very best."

Donovan said he's not as concerned with the decrease in blocked shots as he is with interior defense. On Tuesday, Tennessee scored at will against Florida in the first half, shooting 66.7 percent with many driving layups to the basket.

"I'm not worried about their shot-blocking as much as I'm worried about the defense we're giving up from within the 3-point line," Donovan said. "There are going to be times where we'll get some blocks but I think you have to give some of the teams credit, that they're making adjustments and changes too and that they're getting better."

HUMPHREY ACADEMIC ALL-AMERICAN

Florida senior guard Lee Humphrey was named to ESPN the Magazine's Academic All-American first team.

Humphrey is the second Florida player in school history to earn the honor, joining former Gator forward Matt Bonner, who is now a forward with the San Antonio Spurs.

Humphrey, the reigning SEC Scholar Athlete of the year, holds at 3.68 grade point average in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology. On the court, Humphrey leads the SEC in 3-point accuracy at 45.6 percent. With 253 career 3-pointers, Humphrey is 22 shy of breaking Brett Nelson's school record of 274 3s.

Kevin Brockway can be reached at (352) 374-5054 or by e-mail at brockwk@gvillesun.com

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