Gators just miss against No. 18 Rebels

Published: Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 10:28 p.m.

OXFORD, Miss. Close, but no comeback.

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Mississippi's David Huertas, left, shoots to scoreas Florida's Jai Lucas (5) defends during their game in Oxford, Miss., on Wednesday.

The Associated Press

Florida nearly fought back from a 16-point second-half deficit Wednesday night at No. 18 Ole Miss. But the Gators were unable to stop the inside scoring of Ole Miss center Dwayne Curtis and the outside scoring of freshman guard Trevor Gaskins in an 89-87 loss that exposed some interior problems that were feared heading into Southeastern Conference play.

Give Florida an A for effort, but a C for execution against its first ranked opponent this season.

"We have some deficiencies that have to do with size, strength and youth," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "Our guys battled, they fought, but physically we couldn't handle them across the line and we couldn't make enough shots."

Curtis man-handled Florida inside with 20 points and 12 rebounds and Gaskins scored 15 of his career-high 19 points off the bench.

"Gaskins, I thought was the difference," Donovan said. "Every time we made a run he made a big three, a big shot."

Nick Calathes and Dan Werner each led Florida (15-3, 2-1 SEC) with 16 points. Freshman Chandler Parsons added 15 points off the bench.

"A loss is a loss," Calathes said. "We fought hard, but they don't give you a W for coming close."

Parsons nearly shot Florida back, making consecutive 3-pointers during an 11-0 run that cut Ole Miss' 16-point lead to 59-54 with 10:20 remaining.

Parsons later cut the Ole Miss lead to 84-82 when he hit an open 3-pointer with 34.3 seconds left.

But Curtis made a pair of clutch free throws with 23.7 seconds left, and off a Parsons turnover, Ole Miss sophomore guard Eniel Polynice made two more free throws to extend the lead to 88-82. Calathes and Jai Lucas scored five straight points to make things interesting late, but off a Gaskins' missed free throw with 1.1 seconds left, a desperation heave from Calathes bounded off the shot clock and off the rim as time expired.

Florida made the late run without starting sophomore center Marreese Speights, who was on the bench for the final 12 minutes. Speights finished with four points, seven rebounds and three turnovers.

"I just felt like we could be more effective with a smaller lineup," Donovan said.

It was a game of bewildering runs, but ultimately, Florida lost because it couldn't stop Curtis inside. Florida actually outrebounded the Rebels (15-1, 2-1) 39-36, but the 6-foot-8, 262 pound Curtis was a factor on the glass with six offensive rebounds.

"We need to defend better," Parsons said. "We gave them too many easy baskets in the first half."

Florida jumped to an early 9-0 lead, with Werner, Calathes and junior guard Walter Hodge all making 3-pointers during the run. But the lead quickly disappeared.

After starting tight, Ole Miss made its first basket on a Kenny Williams inside layup off a pretty feed from former Florida guard David Huertas. Williams scored again on on a bank-shot to cut the Florida lead to 9-4.

Werner put back a Hodge miss to extend the Florida lead back to 11-4, but Ole Miss answered with a 19-1 run that exposed Florida's interior problems on both offense and defense.

Huertas made his first 3-pointer to cut the Florida lead to 11-9, then Zach Graham tied the score at 11 with a pair of free throws.

Curtis gave Ole Miss its first lead, 13-12, on an inside layup around Florida freshman Alex Tyus. Graham followed with a fall-away jumper from the free throw line and Curtis had another wide-open inside layup to extend the lead to 17-12.

On offense, Florida sputtered. With Calathes on the bench following an early offensive foul, Florida couldn't find quality shots. The Gators were whistled for a 35-second shot clock violation when sophomore Jonathan Mitchell was unable to get a shot up before the end of the clock. Freshmen Adam Allen and Parsons missed all four of their first-half shot attempts.

"We got a little three happy," Donovan said. "The 3-point line was fool's gold for us after the fast start."

Curtis and Graham continued their work inside, scoring six of the next eight Florida points. An inside Curtis layup put the Rebels ahead 23-12 and sent the sellout crowd at Tad Smith Coliseum into a frenzy.

Ole Miss continued to pad the lead, building it to 43-28 on a bank shot from Gaskins. But Florida closed the half with an inspired 6-0 run. Speights followed up a blocked shot back to him with an inside basket, Mitchell hit a free-throw line jumper and Lucas hit a driving layup with 19.8 seconds remaining that cut the Ole Miss lead to 43-34 at halftime.

Werner, who returned to the starting lineup after playing 30 minutes off the bench against Auburn with a sprained foot, scored 13 first-half points. But Florida struggled from the perimeter, going 4-of-16 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes.

Florida finished the game 9-of-32 from the 3-point line (28.1 percent) and shot 10 of 19 from the free-throw line. Ole Miss (15-1, 2-1) was an equally dismal 16-of-27 from the stripe.

"We lost by two on the road to a ranked team and we missed 10 free throws," Donovan said. "I know they missed a bunch of free throws as well but we also shot 28.1 percent from the 3-point line. I think it's something we can build on."

NOTES: Huertas finished with seven points, three rebounds and two turnovers against his former team. ... Florida got 30 of its 87 points from its bench.

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