tampabay.com

One Giant Joakim

The sophomore tips in the go-ahead basket then blocks the potential winning shot at the buzzer.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published March 12, 2006


NASHVILLE - Joakim Noah will have to watch the film to know exactly what happened. Shortly after Florida won its second straight SEC tournament title Sunday afternoon, the sophomore forward admitted he could barely remember the end of the game.

Noah's tip-in of a Corey Brewer miss with 11.6 seconds remaining and blocked shot as time expired gave No. 16 Florida a 49-47 win over South Carolina at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.

"It's all about being in the right place at the right time, and luck plays a big role in that because the ball could've went in a different trajectory," said Noah, who had eight points and seven rebounds. "It's just a great feeling right now. In my mind, it just went by so fast. But the next thing I knew... we won."

"I'm very, very proud of our kids," said Florida coach Billy Donovan, whose team has advanced to the championship game the past three seasons. "I'm proud of the way they competed, the way they played."

For South Carolina (18-15), it was a bitter ending to a remarkable run. The Gamecocks, at No. 5 in the East the lowest seed to play in the title game, were trying to win four games in four days to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

"Four days of basketball in March is where you want to be if you're a college basketball coach and a college basketball fan," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "Now in doing that, you are testing your team.

"They did an extraordinary thing in advancing to the finals four consecutive days against four different but yet exceptionally good basketball teams. And they answered the bell every day. We fell two points short of the championship."

South Carolina had its worst offensive performance of the season (30 percent from the field) yet still had its chances. Florida shot 50 percent from the field in the first half while the Gamecocks shot 8-of-33 (24.2 precent) and were 10-of-27 from 3-point range. Yet the second-seeded Gators (27-6) led just 25-18.

"Self-inflicted wounds," Donovan said of the Gators' inability to put South Carolina away. "I thought we shot ourselves in the foot a lot of times."

Florida led 45-37 with 5:39 left, but South Carolina tied it at 47 on Rocky Trice's layup with 47.5 seconds remaining. After Noah's tip-in, senior guard Tre Kelley missed a 3-pointer and Renaldo Balkman grabbed the rebound. But his putback was blocked by Noah.

"I couldn't believe it," said Balkman, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Kelley and senior Tarence Kinsey also scored 12. South Carolina kept itself in the game with its defense (17 points off 18 Florida turnovers) and 15 offensive rebounds to the Gators' four.

Florida sophomore guard Taurean Green was the tournament MVP and finished with 10 points. Brewer (16 points, seven rebounds) joined LSU's Glen Davis, Balkman and Kelley on the all-tournament team.

Florida joins Kentucky and Alabama as the only teams to win consecutive SEC tournaments. Kentucky was the last to do it (1997-99).