Calathes leads UF past 'Pack

Published: Saturday, January 3, 2009 at 7:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 3, 2009 at 7:03 p.m.

A tremendous collection of point guards were in the O'Connell Center on Saturday afternoon, and what they witnessed in the second half of Florida's 68-66 victory against N.C. State from Gator sophomore Nick Calathes and freshman Erving Walker no doubt was a credit to their position.

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Florida's Nick Calathes lets out a yell in the second half against N.C. State on Saturday.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer

Calathes scored a career-high 32 points (24 after halftime) and added five rebounds and five assists. He was at his best in the final few minutes where he scored UF's last 12 points and grabbed a steal to seal the come-from-behind win. Not to be outdone, the 5-foot-8 Walker provided a huge second-half spark, scoring eight points and providing more activity on the defensive end than coach Billy Donovan said he had seen the last few outings.

And those watching...

Four Final Four point guards in Donovan (1987 with Providence), Dan Cross (1994 UF), Wolfpack head coach Sidney Lowe (1983 N.C. State) and assistant Monte Towe (1974 N.C. State) were working the contest (Cross does radio commentary), and former Gator playmaker Jason Williams, who won the 2006 NBA championship with the Miami Heat, took in the game from press row.

Lowe was particularly impressed with the 6-6 Calathes, who brought his team back from a 33-23 halftime deficit.

"When you have a smart player like that - that can pass and also get to the basket with his size, because he can look over the defense - it's tough," said Lowe, who like Towe, led the Wolfpack to a national championship as a point guard. "He was getting to the basket and we tried to switch (defenses) a little bit. He made some tough shots over 6-8, 6-9 guys. There wasn't more you could do."

The win was a defining one for the Gators (12-2), who opened the game with an energetic first five minutes that was mysteriously followed by 15 minutes of mistakes and missed opportunities.

The Wolfpack (9-3) entered the break shooting 53.8 percent, while holding UF to 0-for-6 on 3-point tries and outrebounding the Gators 18-12.

Donovan said he told his team that was "the worst they could have played." Calathes said he agreed, but looked at it in a more upbeat manner.

"We were only down 10, so we were still in the game," Calathes said. "We knew we could come back."

Spurred on by Calathes, who picked up his third foul with 13:11 to play and his fourth with 1:57 remaining, the Gators gradually chipped into the lead. And with 9:19 to play, Walker sank a 15-foot jumper to give UF its first advantage since it led 15-12 midway through the first half.

From there the lead changed 11 more times with versatile 6-9 forward Brandon Costner (24 points on 9-of-11 shooting) not allowing N.C. State to hang its head after seeing the halftime margin slip away.

Still, it wasn't enough, as defensive pressure from Walter Hodge and Dan Werner helped Calathes get a steal (and subsequent 1-of-2 foul shots) with three seconds remaining that closed out the victory.

"We didn't get the job done," Costner said. "We came here to get a win. Once again, we gave another one away."

On the Florida side, the victory did a lot to build confidence heading into Southeastern Conference play, which opens next Saturday against Mississippi.

"There's a long way to go, but this was no different than a conference game for us," Donovan said. "That's an ACC team with a lot of experience we were just fortunate enough to beat.

"I think we can build on that."

TIP-INS: Gator forward Dan Werner, once a Wolfpack commitment, scored 10 points and added two rebounds, two assists and two steals against N.C. State. ... Walker was modest after his performance saying it didn't matter if it were him or senior guard Walter Hodge playing the majority of the second half minutes that either player would have given the Gators a needed boost. ... The Gators' next game is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. against visiting Longwood. ... Saturday's attendance was 11,263. Donovan called the crowd's enthusiasm "outstanding."... After allowing eight first-half offensive rebounds, the Gators allowed none in the second half. ... Prior to Saturday, the last Gator to score 30-plus points in a game was Joakim Noah (37) on March 1, 2006 against Georgia in the O'Dome. ... Calathes has 313 career assists. He passed Justin Hamilton to move into ninth place in the Gator record book Saturday.

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