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Gators turn to veterans to set mark

NO. 2 UF 75, MISS. ST. 60: Fouls and illness force the Gators to rely on depth as they win their 15th straight.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published January 12, 2006


GAINESVILLE - In all the hype surrounding Florida's young guns, the four starting sophomores and one junior, the veterans have quietly been left out of the spotlight.

But with starting forward Al Horford battling strep throat and two other starters in early foul trouble, veterans Chris Richard and Adrian Moss forced their way back into the limelight Wednesday night.

Moss scored eight and was a defensive force, and Richard contributed 22 minutes in Florida's 75-60 win over Mississippi State in front of 12,278 at the O'Connell Center. The Gators (15-0) set a school record for consecutive wins.

"It was really a very humbling experience, I'm hoping for our team, because the two guys that really carried us were Chris Richard and Adrian Moss," coach Billy Donovan said. "Those guys played great. You can't expect (Joakim) Noah, Horford, (Taurean) Green, (Corey) Brewer and (Lee) Humphrey every night to play great. It's got to be other people. That's the thing that's encouraging about this team; it's different players on different nights."

Earlier this week, Donovan said he didn't know whether the No. 2 Gators deserved to be second or 75th. At times, they played like both.

Florida led by 14 early in the first half. But with Horford ill and Brewer and Humphrey on the bench with foul trouble midway through the half, Donovan was forced to use freshmen Walter Hodge and David Huertas, the latter of whom was scheduled to sit out with strep throat.

With the smaller lineup and facing a stellar zone defense, Florida allowed Mississippi State to go on a 13-0 run to pull within 26-25 with 5:27 left in the half. The Bulldogs (11-4, 2-1) trailed 35-32 at halftime.

But while the Gators struggled, Moss, the fifth-year senior, stepped in, drawing two charges in the first half, rebounding and bringing a calming presence.

"Having a guy like Adrian on the court is so big," said Brewer, who finished with 18 points, four rebounds and three assists. "When they were coming back, he calmed everybody down and told us we had to keep our composure. He played great tonight. You can't ask for anything else. He took charges, he did all the little things."

Florida outscored the Bulldogs 25-8 to start the second half and led by as many as 20. A 12-point second-half performance by forward Jamont Gordon helped the Bulldogs to a 14-4 run, but they never pulled closer than 64-54 with 4:50 left. Gordon had a team-high 17, but it was Florida's performance that impressed Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury.

"I said two weeks ago they are the best team in the country," said Stansbury, whose leading scorer, Jamall Edmondson, missed the game with a groin injury.

Green had 20 points, including a 3-pointer at the end of the first half and two with the shot clock running out to stem MSU runs in the second.

Moss added three rebounds, one assist and one steal, and Richard had five rebounds, one assist, one block and two points.

"We're a team," Moss said. "The team takes up for each other. When one thing isn't going well, another steps up and takes over that role. We try to make the game easy for each other."