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Homely victory likely to move Gators to No. 1

Florida lets Stetson hang around before pulling away 74-61.

BRIAN SHAFFER
Published December 7, 2003

GAINESVILLE - The last week has seen Florida break down defensively, overlook opponents and take verbal lashings by its coach. Yet at the same time, the Gators have found a way to rise to No. 2 in the country and could be No. 1 in the next poll because of Kansas' loss to Stanford.

And while they walked off the floor Saturday with a 74-61 victory against Stetson, their opponent is not convinced.

"I don't know about No. 2 in the country," Stetson guard Anthony Register said. "Miami (whom Stetson lost to 91-70 on Tuesday) was a great team, and they're not even ranked. No disrespect to Florida, but I don't think they are the No. 2 team in the country."

Florida guard Anthony Roberson said while the rankings are out of the team's control, they bring added pressure to each game.

"It doesn't even matter how we feel about (the ranking)," he said. "They have already put the bull's-eye on our back. When you are No. 2 or in the Top 5, everybody is looking for that upset."

With a game against Maryland (3-0), No. 25 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll, Wednesday, Florida (5-0) might have overlooked the trio of instate opponents it faced in the past five days. And for the third consecutive game, Florida found itself tested by a team that entered as a considerable underdog.

The Gators took a 12-point lead into halftime but committed 10 turnovers to 11 assists. Florida got to the free-throw line 10 times to combat their turnovers while Stetson attempted just two in the first half. The Gators made 9 of 10.

Coach Billy Donovan said he was not concerned about the sloppiness because his team tried to follow his pregame instructions of increased ball movement.

"I really think that a lot of the turnovers can be attributed to me," Donovan said. "I've been focusing offensively on the extra pass, and I thought our starters played great."

Florida opened a 25-point lead with 7:19 left. The run was spurred by Roberson, who scored 11 of his 18 points after halftime. The Gators' other key contributor was forward David Lee, who had 16 points and nine rebounds.

Though he has been bothered by recurring leg cramps and an ankle injury during Florida's first four games, Lee played 26 minutes and said he felt good afterward.

"We got up and down the floor quite a bit, so it was a high-intensity game," Lee said. "I am just taking steps in the right direction right now."

A late flurry allowed Stetson to close the final gap to 13 points, a breakdown Donovan attributed to different lineup combinations and youth on the floor.

"It is not a matter of them doing the things I ask them to do. It is just a matter of us putting things together," he said. "I think they are moving in the right direction. We just have to make sure that our younger guys understand the level that they need to play at from an intensity standpoint."

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