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Gators take SEC opener

Udonis Haslem avoids foul trouble and scores 24 in a 69-60 victory over South Carolina.

©Associated Press
January 6, 2002

GAINESVILLE -- Udonis Haslem gave himself a chance to make a difference against South Carolina this time.

Avoiding foul trouble, Haslem had 24 points and 10 rebounds as third-ranked Florida began defense of its Southeastern Conference championship by beating the Gamecocks 69-60 Saturday.

The 6-foot-9 center played a total of 27 minutes in two games against South Carolina last season, but Saturday he helped the Gators end a three-game losing streak in SEC openers.

"The difference was staying out of foul trouble," Haslem said. "My focus out there wasn't on scoring. My focus was just on being on the court. ... I played a lot smarter. I credit that to experience."

The Gators (12-1) won their school-record 11th straight game, building a 31-24 halftime lead and breaking it open with a 12-2 surge late in the second half.

Haslem, who shot 9-for-13, keyed the spurt with a short jumper and a rebound dunk.

"I thought he was great in that he kept himself on the floor and he figured out a way to score and contribute," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.

Haslem, Matt Bonner and Orien Greene were the only Florida players to score in the second half until James White's 3-pointer made it 60-43 with 5:01 left.

South Carolina (10-4) did a fairly good job of handling UF's fullcourt defensive pressure. But the Gamecocks missed 23 of 32 shots in the opening half and shot 37 percent (23-for-62) for the game.

"While I think we handled their press reasonably well, I do think it had an affect on us," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said.

Marius Petravicius, the Gamecocks' 6-foot-10 center from Lithuania, had a tough time working against Haslem near the basket. Petravicius shot 3-for-10 and went to the free-throw line once.

"Marius was in there flailing around ... trying to show he got fouled," Odom said. "He knows I love him to death. But come on, you have to go play."

Despite the loss, South Carolina has won nine of 11 since losing to Duke and UCLA on successive nights in November. Aaron Lucas led the Gamecocks with 14 points.

South Carolina upset Florida 69-68 in last season's SEC opener, overcoming a 10-point deficit in the final five minutes at home. But the closest the Gamecocks could get down the stretch Saturday was nine on three free throws by Lucas in the closing seconds.

Florida committed more turnovers (22) than it forced (16). And Donovan wasn't happy about the double-digit lead getting cut in half in the final five minutes.

"We were fortunate to win," Donovan said.

Bonner, Florida's second-leading scorer with a 15.9-point average, made four straight shots and scored nine of the Gators' first 11 points in the second half after going scoreless in the first half.

Florida shot 50 percent (25-for-50), including 14-for-24 (58.3 percent) in the second half.

"We played physical, we played tough, we didn't foul," Donovan said. "That's what you're looking for when you're playing our style."

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