By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
Published December 4, 2005
GAINESVILLE - When the season began last month, Florida was unranked, planning to start four sophomores and a junior and devoid of any big-name talent. Nobody outside the Gator locker room was speaking highly of the team.
After its 80-47 win over Central Florida on Saturday afternoon, the No. 11 Gators are 7-0 and their list of believers is growing.
Count UCF coach Kirk Speraw among them. Speraw believes the Gators could be a better team than the one that defeated UCF by 20 two years ago and featured Anthony Roberson, Matt Walsh, David Lee, Matt Bonner and Brett Nelson.
"Maybe they don't have the individual talent they had two years ago, but collectively I think they might be better," Speraw said. "It certainly looks that way so far."
At least so far. It should be noted that the only ranked teams Florida has beaten are Wake Forest and Syracuse between wins over St. Peter's College, Albany, FSU and Alabama State.
Coach Billy Donovan said the time will come when the Gators will lose, but he's greatly encouraged by the way this team is playing.
"They play the right way and that's the thing that's enjoyable about this team," Donovan said. "This is a great lesson for people that we come into this season with people thinking we're not going to be good because of our talent level. But you know what? It's amazing if you do have some talent and guys mind-sets are right, how good you can become as a team.
"And that's one thing we've been able to develop in these kids. I think they are really hungry, they are fighting for their respect as players and our team's respect, and they have a genuine concern and care for one another. It's the consummate team all the way through."
The "team" effort spurred Florida's second-half rout. The Gators led by 13 at halftime after UCF pulled to within six late. But back-to-back steals by sophomore Corey Brewer led to quick baskets that turned into a 14-1 run. Brewer had a career-high 25 points and seven rebounds, and center Al Horford posted a career-high 17 points to go with four steals and five rebounds.
In the second half, Brewer, Joakim Noah (13 points, five rebounds, five assists) and Horford (17 points, four steals, five rebounds) combined for 16 of the Gators' 18 baskets.
"It feels good," Brewer said of his 10-of-14 shooting. "You don't feel like you can miss on anything when you're in the zone."
UCF (4-1) was averaging eight 3-pointers, but the Gators held the Golden Knights to 2-of-8 - an aspect Donovan called a key to the game.
UF sophomore guard Taurean Green extended his consecutive free-throw streak to 27 and Florida shot 52.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range, an offensive showing even Donovan enjoyed.
"There's no question offensively there are times you sit over there as a coach and you're proud your guys are playing the right way," he said. "Our kids play the right way. Their focus is on defending and rebounding and their focus on offense is total unselfishness. As a coach, there's no question I derive a great deal of pleasure watching these kids play.
The victory was No. 200 at Florida for Donovan, and it came with a twist.
"My first game here was against Central Florida," Donovan said. "I'm just happy my kids did so well."