Gators down Ole Miss in SEC opener


Chandler Parsons looks to pass the ball inside against Ole Miss on Saturday night.

Brad McClenny/Special to The Sun
Published: Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 11:57 p.m.

Shortly after Florida won the BCS championship, UF sophomore forward Chandler Parsons called teammates from his cell phone.

"I was at the celebration at midtown and it was ridiculous," Parsons said. "We're all proud of those guys. We definitely want to share in that and that's what I told the guys, that if we continue to work hard we have a chance to do something special."

For the first 14 minutes of Saturday night's 78-68 win over Ole Miss, Florida played with the energy and precision of a Sweet 16 team. But the final 26 minutes showed how far Florida has to go to become a team capable of even making it back to the NCAA Tournament.

Outrebounded 46-22, the Gators nearly let a 21-point first half lead slip away, forcing Florida coach Billy Donovan to once again question the makeup of his team.

"I don't know how competitive we really are," Donovan said.

Florida (14-2, 1-0) won its eighth straight SEC opener despite getting badly outrebounded by a Rebels team that came into the game with the worst rebounding margin in the league.

"It's hard when you're playing defense, trying to get a stop and then they get a cheap one off the glass," Parsons said. "We definitely have to find a way to get the ball once its off the rim."

Sophomore Nick Calathes led Florida with 19 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Senior guard Walter Hodge added 16 points and four steals and Parsons added 12 points.

Former Gator guard David Huertas, heckled throughout the game, led Ole Miss (9-6, 0-1 SEC) with 16 points. Huertas cut Florida's lead to 74-68 with a tip-in off his own miss with 2:05 remaining. But after Dan Werner missed a front end of a one-and-one,Calathes chased down a loose ball and forced a turnover by knocking the ball off the hands of DeAundre Cranston. Hodge and Calathes then made four straight free throws down the stretch to ice the game.

"They allowed us to get back in the game," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "We couldn't secure it."

Florida raced to an early 49-28 lead by making eight of its first 10 3-point attempts against Ole Miss's 2-3 zone. But Florida cooled off, missing its last five 3-point attempts, allowing Ole Miss to cut the Florida lead to 53-39 at halftime.

"I was concerned going into the half because we shot the ball so well," Donovan said.

The cold spell continued into the second half. Florida missed its first five 3-point attempts to start the second half, allowing Ole Miss to cut the lead to 59-49 on a jumper from freshman WillBogan.

"We're a shooting team," Parsons said. "That's what we do. We don't want to take bad shots, but I thought they were good looks."

Donovan also felt like Florida took the right approach against the zone.

"It's not like we have the kind of the team where we can pound the ball into someone inside," Donovan said.

Hodge stopped the bleeding, hitting a 3-pointer off a timeout with 11:33 remaining left to extend the lead back to 62-49. Earlier in the week, Donovan challenged upperclassmen Hodge and Werner to play more consistent. Hodge lived up to his end of the bargain Saturday night.

"I thought Walter did a nice job, guarding Huertas. forcing him into some tough shots," Donovan said. "It's no secret that when he and Dan and Chandler play well, it adds something to our team."

FREE THROWS: Florida football coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Tim Tebow made a brief cameo appearance in the first half. Both were with Andre Debose, a five-star athlete from Sanford who is a verbal commitment in Florida's 2009 recruiting class.

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