Ready for its revenge
NO.16 FLORIDA 81, NO.17 LSU 65: The Gators pull away late to set up another game with South Carolina.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published March 12, 2006
NASHVILLE - The rematch Florida secretly hoped for is a reality.
It's Florida vs. South Carolina.
With an 81-65 win over No.1 seed and No.17-ranked LSU in the SEC tournament semifinals Saturday afternoon, No.16 Florida (26-6) set up a title bout with the Gamecocks at 1 p.m. today.
South Carolina swept the Gators during the regular season.
"I'm very, very, very excited," sophomore forward Joakim Noah said. "That's been something for us as Gators, I think, that was definitely a game that we wanted whether it was the championship or not. And to face them in the championship is definitely like a dream for us."
Saturday was anything but a dream for LSU's Glen Davis, the SEC player of the year. The sophomore center was coming off a 28-point, 13-rebound game against Vanderbilt on Friday. But Florida held him to 5-of-12 from the field, and he spent much of the second half in foul trouble. He totaled 12 points and seven rebounds.
"The loss is basically my fault," Davis said. "I didn't play the way I had to play for us to win. That loss is on me."
In Davis' defense, he was a focal point of the Gators' game plan particularly because the Tigers (23-9) were playing without SEC freshman of the year Tyrus Thomas (ankle).
"I thought that was as well as we could play without Tyrus Thomas," LSU coach John Brady said. "That was an outstanding game for our team to play. I can't tell you how proud I am of what they were able to do." Florida shot 51.9 percent from the field in the first half but trailed 41-38 after allowing LSU to shoot 57 percent and score 24 in the paint.
"I think you can see how hard it is to play back-to-back nights," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I didn't like our defensive intensity in the first half. We were able to put together some consecutive stops on the defensive end of the floor in the second half, and we were able to make some 3s."
Florida was just 33 percent from 3-point range, but consecutive 3-pointers and a driving layup by guard Taurean Green gave the Gators a 72-59 lead with 4:54 remaining. Florida had gone eight possessions without a basket. Green's eight consecutive points capped a 16-3 run.
"That's the thing with our team. When we got our losses, we didn't close out games," said Green, who started Saturday after spending most of Friday night fighting a stomach virus that required an I.V. and kept him in bed until the team left the hotel for the arena.
"We did a good job of closing the game out. We just took what the defense was giving us."
With center Al Horford in foul trouble for most of the game (he played just 12 minutes and had four fouls), junior forward Chris Richard scored 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting and had seven rebounds in a season-high 30 minutes. He also was a solid factor in guarding Davis.
Davis strained his lower back but said Florida's 2-3 zone was his biggest problem.
"I had to come out and catch the ball high because that was the only open area," said Davis, who averages 18.7 points. "It's tough to do anything with the ball in that situation."
LSU's Darrel Mitchell led all scorers with 21, and Tasmin Mitchell added 20 and nine rebounds. Florida had Richard and four others in double figures: Green (18), Corey Brewer (15), Noah (15) and Horford (10).
Before today's rematch, however, a history lesson: South Carolina defeated the Gators three times in 1997-98, including the SEC tournament quarterfinals.
"We definitely remember those two losses, so any time you get a chance to get a win against a team that beat you twice, especially a championship, that would be nice," Florida guard Lee Humphrey said.
"We definitely don't want to lose three times to the same team in one year."