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College basketball

UF ready for another classic

Gators know they will have to stop Georgia guards Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams to win on the road.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 4, 2003

GAINESVILLE -- On Sunday, Florida coach Billy Donovan was watching video from the Jan.7 game against Georgia and realized he had forgotten what a classic matchup it was.

The shootout included nine 3-pointers in the final nine minutes, including four consecutive by Bulldogs guard Jarvis Hayes in a 21/2-minute span. Hayes scored a game-high 25.

The Gators won with a 3-pointer from freshman Anthony Roberson at the buzzer, but watching the game film was a stark reminder of how tough Georgia is.

"We're going to have to go in there and play very, very well to win," Donovan said. "This will be a tremendous challenge going into Athens."

In a nationally televised, prime-time Southeastern Conference game tonight, Florida (24-4, 12-2 SEC) once again faces the Bulldogs (17-8, 9-5) and their dynamic duo of guards, Ezra Williams and Hayes.

It's not something you look forward to as an opposing coach.

Hayes, a junior, is the conference's third-leading scorer, averaging 18.1 points. A senior, Williams is fifth in the SEC with 16.9. Combined, they are among the toughest in the league to defend.

Focus exclusively on Hayes and you give Williams the opportunity to showcase his ability to drive to the basket or hit from outside. Take on Williams, and Hayes can make you pay with his deadly 3-point accuracy: he trails only the Gators' Matt Bonner in 3-point field-goal percentage (.449).

"(Hayes is) definitely one of the toughest, if not the toughest guy to defend in the SEC just because he's so athletic and he can put it on the floor and shoot," senior guard Brett Nelson said. "They've got another guy in Ezra, who in my opinion is just as dangerous because of the way he shoots the ball. He has a really quick release, and all he needs is a second and he can get a shot off. He's really improved his passing, which is what has made him so dangerous this year."

In their earlier matchup, senior guard Justin Hamilton held Williams scoreless in the second half, after he scored 10 in the first 20 minutes. Hamilton said Monday that the duo poses a serious threat on the court.

"It's tough with both those guys because both are going to get shots up because that's what they are required to do for their team," he said. "As a defender, you just try to make it as tough as you possibly can for those guys to score. Georgia is a great basketball team, they are one of the better teams in the country. They are especially tough at home, so we're going to have to come ready to play."

Since his winning shot, Roberson has replaced Nelson as a starter. Roberson said he remembers the shot "like it was yesterday" but realizes he isn't shooting as well as he was when he scored 23 against the Bulldogs. In the past six games, four of which he has started, Roberson is 17-of-59 (28.8 percent), while Nelson is 10-for-29 (34.5 percent) from the field.

For Donovan, a successful game plan includes figuring out which Gators have the best chance of keeping Hayes and Williams in check. Early Monday he was still pondering the matchups. In reviewing the previous game, Donovan said even with strong defense, he saw Hayes making 3-pointers with 6-foot-10 Bonner all over him.

"At times," Donovan said, "when he gets it going like that, there's very little you can do other than deny him the basketball. He's always a major problem."

Although Georgia currently is mired in "Colegate" -- the controversy over allegations by former player Tony Cole that the coaching staff violated NCAA rules -- the Gators said they don't expect the controversy to affect the Bulldogs' performance.

"I think it's tough to avoid (the distraction). It's on the front page of ESPN and the first story on SportsCenter every day," UF center David Lee said. "But they played Kentucky (on Sunday) as well as anybody has played Kentucky in the SEC. And we also know with the Florida-Georgia rivalry we're going to get their best shot just like they are going to get ours. ... They are going to bring their A game, so we're not going up there expecting any handouts. We know we're going to have to play one of our best games to win."

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