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Noah's career game lifts Gators 77-66
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published March 2, 2006
[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Joakim Noah had 37 points and 11 rebounds against Georgia.
GAINESVILLE - A few months after his freshman year, after he had suffered through a disappointing season and had seen extremely limited playing time, Joakim Noah in May went to Cameroon to visit his grandfather.
He wanted to get away from basketball and he was looking for some inspiration. He knew 69-year-old Zacharie Noah was the man to give it.
Work hard. Pray. Sacrifice. That was the advice he got.
Wednesday night, Zacharie Noah got a chance to see how well his grandson had followed his words of wisdom. The sophomore forward scored a career-high 37 and added 11 rebounds in No. 17 Florida's 77-66 win over Georgia in front of 11,578 at the O'Connell Center.
With his grandfather watching him play a college game for the first time and his father, Yannick, also on hand, Noah became the first player since Vernon Delancy to score 36 or more in a game; Delancy scored 38 in 1981. Noah also broke the O'Connell Center record with 19 free throws, surpassing Andrew Moten's 15 in 1985.
"He lifted us up on his shoulders and carried us," teammate Corey Brewer said.
"I feel such confidence right now," Noah said. " ... I'm just so happy they were able to see my last game here as a sophomore."
Noah's dad and grandfather weren't expected to arrive until about 9 p.m. but made a special effort to be at the Gators' final home game. They arrived about 7:15 p.m.
"We flew to Miami and then chartered a plane here to be on time," Yannick Noah said. ... "I'm really excited, I'm proud of him. I'm happy that people like him the way he is."
The way he was Wednesday, everyone liked him.
"He is a terrific player, there is no doubt about that," Georgia coach Dennis Felton said. "He played really well tonight. I tip my hat to him."
"He carried our team offensively, no question," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "The thing that was so shocking was he only took 14 shots. The thing that was so impressive was he got to the free-throw line 22 times."
The Gators (23-6, 9-6 SEC) led by 13 with 9:57 left, but Georgia (15-13, 5-10) chipped away and pulled within 67-63 with 3:15 left. But unlike the past three games that ended in losses, the Gators found a way to hold on at the end.
Noah had a team-high 18 points in the first half, including 12-of-13 from the line. The Gators led 36-28 at halftime, but it didn't come easily. Florida relied on a 13-0 run late in the half to take a 28-19 lead.
Brewer was the only other Gator in double figures with 13. Center Al Horford played just 22 minutes after sustaining a hip pointer early in the game, which required an injection.
"For us, it was a game we had to grind it out," Donovan said. "It wasn't always our style of play. ... Tonight was about consecutive stops and defending the 3-point line. They shot 19 percent from the 3-point line and 39 percent from the field. That was the difference."
With the Gators' win and Tennessee's loss to Kentucky, Sunday's game in Lexington takes on even more meaning for Florida and Kentucky: The winner will earn the No. 2 seed in the East in the SEC Tournament.
"It's like we told each other, it's March now, let the madness begin," Brewer said. "We can't lose any more. That's just the way it is. We just can't lose."