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Gators get better quickly against Bulldogs

Florida scores the first 10 points and leads by 27 at halftime to end a three-game losing streak 76-48.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002

GAINESVILLE -- Florida forward Matt Bonner was feeling a little confused in the midst of a three-game losing streak.

Dealing with some "personal issues" and facing the possibility of losing a fourth consecutive conference game, the third at home in the past two weeks, Bonner called his coach at home earlier this week and sought advice.

Billy Donovan's most telling words of wisdom for Bonner's basketball problems? Shoot with confidence.

That, along with whatever else Donovan said, seemed to do the trick.

The junior forward scored 20 of his 25 points in the first half, leading the Gators to a 76-48 victory over Mississippi State in front of 12,396 at the O'Connell Center.

Florida improved to 1,000-936 all-time. "It has been kind of tough on us," Bonner said. "There are two ways you can deal with adversity. You can either go in the jar, or you can overcome it and become better.

"I think we came together as a team the last few days in practice; not just on the court, but off the court. We decided we are a team, not just a group."

After Tuesday's loss to Kentucky, Donovan said the No.5 Gators (16-4, 5-3) had several issues to "shore up," including turnover-to-assist ratio, rebounding and perimeter shooting.

After committing 12 turnovers in the first half against Kentucky, Florida had four in addition to 12 assists in the first half Saturday. Florida was outrebounded 22-16 but outrebound Mississippi State 42-39 for the game.

The Gators shot 51 percent from the field in the first half, 45.6 for the game and 40 percent from 3-point range.

"I couldn't be any more proud of the way they played tonight and especially coming off some adversity," Donovan said. "I really felt like our basketball team played very well from start to finish. I was proud of how our kids played and how unselfish they played."

While Florida played what Donovan said was one of its best first halves of the season, Mississippi State (17-5, 4-4) played its worst.

The Bulldogs, who entered as the SEC's top-shooting team, committed turnovers on their first four possessions and fell behind 10-0 in the first three minutes.

The Bulldogs committed 16 turnovers that led to 24 points in the first half but had just four turnovers in the second half.

"Florida is a good enough team without adding to it, and we added to it," Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury said. "Florida has been struggling as a team, but that's not going to continue to happen. You just hope you can get in and get out before it's better.

"We gave them a great dose of medicine, so I think they are well."

Florida led 47-20 at halftime, and it was never close. Mississippi State shot 36 percent from the field in the first half and didn't hit a 3-pointer, eventually shooting 37.5 percent from the field and 25 percent (3-of-12) from 3-point range.

Florida, on the other hand, went 6-for-6 in the first four minutes en route to a 14-2 lead with 16:44 left in the first half.

And Bonner led the way.

He opened the game with a 3-pointer 51 seconds in, then went 5-of-6 from the 3-point line (7-of-8 from the field), finishing the half with 20 points and three rebounds.

After missing his only shot of the first half at the buzzer, Bonner went 0-for-8 in the first 14 minutes of the second half but finished 6-for-9 from 3-point range.

"I was disappointed in 6-for-9," he said. "I had three rim out."

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