Varnado dominates UF inside

Published: Saturday, March 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 2, 2008 at 12:22 a.m.

One of the first rules of shooting a basketball, of course, is to look at the rim, focus on that front iron.

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Florida's Marreese Speights goes up for a rebound as Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado grabs the loose ball Saturday in the O'Connell Center.

Brandon Kruse/The Gainesville Sun

On Saturday in the O'Connell Center, it was pretty obvious the Florida shooters were looking and focusing on something else.

Well, make that someone else.

Mississippi State center Jarvis Varnado, the nation's leading shot blocker.

Varnado, a quick-leaping sophomore, blocked seven shots Saturday, an impressive effort on its own. Throw in the number of shots he altered (there is no official number on this, but it was many) and it adds up to a game-changing performance for Varnado on his 20th birthday.

"It was one of my better games," said Varnado, who scored 11 points and had 10 rebounds to go along with the blocks in leading the Bulldogs to a 68-59 victory. "I haven't been getting a lot of blocks lately, so this was just my breakout game.

"When the guards got beat, I just cleaned up their mistakes. Any shooter will look for a shot blocker inside. Once I blocked a shot today I knew I was in their mind, 'Where is he at.' They were missing easy chip shots."

The Gators had no problems penetrating inside Saturday, which should have raised a red flag. It's almost as if the Bulldogs were inviting them into the paint, into Varnado's lair. Once they stepped inside, the big guy messed them up in a big way.

He blocked shots, and most of the ones he didn't reject clanged off the rim or smashed off the backboard or almost missed everything.

For a young college team, this was a painful (and embarrassing) lesson in Intimidation 101.

"Jarvis does that every game," MSU guard Jamont Gordon said. "He's a great shot blocker and he makes a lot of guys change their shot in there because they're intimidated knowing he's going to block their shot.

"Florida missed a lot of easy baskets around the rim looking for him."

Varnado said coming into Saturday's game his shot-blocking numbers had fallen in recent games because his inside presence is now well-known in the SEC.

"Shooters are putting bodies into me and coaches are telling them not to go in there," he said. "Obviously, today was a good day for me."

The young UF shooters definitely gave Varnado lots of swatting opportunities. The Gators elected to challenge him and they lost.

"Jarvis is the key to our defense," said MSU guard Ben Hansbrough, who led the Bulldogs with 20 points. "He's a great player and a great shot blocker. Without Jarvis, I don't think we would have won that game. He throws off a lot of shots."

Varnado said Saturday's victory was a nice birthday present.

"Any time you come in here and get a win, it's big," he said. "This is a good Florida team and this was a big win for us."

Forward Charles Rhodes echoed the sentiment, even though he was a little confused about which arena the Bulldogs had just won in.

"I always have fear for them, even if it is the baby Gators," Rhodes said. "This is a real tough place to play.

"Billy Donovan is a genius and to come in here and win in The Swamp is incredible."

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