UF hoops wins final tuneup


Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 12:23 a.m.

Florida faced some adversity, albeit brief, in its final tuneup before Southeastern Conference play.

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Florida's Marreese Speights goes up for a jump shot through a High Point defender during the first half at the O'Connell Center Wednesday night. Speights had a career night, scoring 24 points with 15 rebounds as the Gators improve to 13-2.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun

The Gators allowed a 16-point halftime lead against High Point to dwindle to seven behind the hard-charging play of star forward Arizona Reid. But Florida regrouped in time to beat the Panthers 88-70 Wednesday night at the O'Connell Center.

Florida finished its non-conference schedule 13-2 and will head into SEC play next Tuesday at Alabama with a modest two-game winning streak.

"Are we ready? Maybe not," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "But I don't know if we would have been ready playing five or eight or nine Top 20 teams.

"It's almost where you really don't know, but we've played enough games. Our guys are still going to have to go through things, bad shooting nights, runs on the road."

Florida sophomore center Marreese Speights huffed and puffed his way to career highs in points (24), rebounds (15) and minutes (31). Though the 6-foot-10 Speights was winded at times, unable to set a screen for teammate Nick Calathes at the end of the first half, he made up for it with a 10-for-14 night from the floor.

"I just have to learn to fight through it," Speights said. "I try to play as hard as I can and just let coach know when I'm tired."

Speights was taken out of the game after scoring two quick baskets three minutes into the game, but returned to play 11 of the final 13 minutes in the first half.

Speights' previous career-high on the floor was 25 minutes.

"In the first half, I wanted him to push through it," Donovan said. "I wanted him to push through it until the whistle."

The chiseled, 6-5 Reid led High Point (6-6) with 22 points, two points below his average of 24.5 coming into the game. Reid went nine for 20 from the floor.

"We did a pretty good job on Reid," Donovan said. "I think when you take 20 shots, you're going to have some points."

Reid scored seven points during a High Point 18-7 run that cut the Florida lead to 58-51 with 13:10 remaining. Florida, however, didn't fold. Sophomore forward Jonathan Mitchell, who had another strong night with 12 points off the bench, made an open 3-pointer to bring the Florida lead back to 61-51.

"The game of basketball is about runs," Mitchell said. "We stayed humble. Coach wasn't very happy, but we were able to get some stops and make some shots."

Mitchell made a short hook in the lane and another 3-pointer during a 7-0 run that extended the Florida lead to 75-58 with 7:58 left.

"Those are things you want to do, respond and regroup," Donovan said. "I can't create that for them in practice."

Mitchell was 5-for-6 from the floor, missing his lone shot of the night on a chuck near the end of the shot clock. He's made 13 of his last 14 from the floor.

"I'm just letting it fly and not really thinking about it," Mitchell said. "Maybe that's why I'm having some success."

Florida dominated inside early against a High Point team with no starters taller than 6-foot-5. The Gators scored 28 first-half points in the paint to jump to a 50-34 halftime lead.

Speights went eight for 10 from the floor, scoring on a variety of dunks, putbacks and pull-up jumpers.

Freshman Alex Tyus also gave Florida six active first-half minutes off the bench with six points, three rebounds and two blocked shots.

The Gators also extended the defense with its press in the first half with mixed results. Florida forced two turnovers off its press and forced the Panthers to call a timeout, but also gave up some wide-open dunks and layups.

FREE THROWS: Florida assistant coach Rob Lanier missed the game due to flu-like symptoms. ... Florida grabbed 14 offensive rebounds against High Point for its second straight game of 10 or more offense rebounds. ... Florida grabbed 10 offensive boards against Temple.

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