Youngsters get some exposure

Published November 15, 2006

GAINESVILLE - Practices have been so intense around the Florida basketball facility that freshman Marreese Speights readily admits "it's been really tough."

But his coaches and teammates keep telling the former St. Petersburg High standout it's all for his own good. Tuesday night, Speights started to understand the wisdom they've been trying to impart.

The freshman forward/center had eight points, four rebounds, one block and one assist in 10 minutes as No. 1 Florida defeated the University of North Florida 86-40 in front of 11,781 at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center.

"This helps my confidence a lot," Speights said. "When I first got here, the first couple of weeks of practice was really killing me. Practice is really hard, so when it comes to games, it's easy. All the big men have been helping me out, trying to get me ready."

The Gators had it easy against UNF 0-3, which is in its second season as a Division I school. The Osprey made only one 3-pointer, and 40 points is the lowest total scored by an opponent since Florida Atlantic scored 42 in November 2000.

"I guess we got a taste of why they are the No. 1 team in the nation," UNF coach Matt Kilcullen said.

Florida (2-0) led 38-20 at halftime, the Gators' only flaw being the free-throw line (7-for-16).

Florida opened the second half on a 12-2 run and, after committing five turnovers in the first half, finished the game with just seven turnovers and 21 assists.

"We want to make a statement in the second half," said junior center Al Horford, who had a team-high 17 points and 11 rebounds, the 13th double double of his career. "We want to come out, be aggressive and just go at teams."

UNF's Rashad Williams had a game-high 21 points.

Four Gators starters finished in double figures: Horford, Joakim Noah (15 points, 10 rebounds); Taurean Green (12 points, three assists) and Lee Humphrey (12 points, three rebounds, three assists). Starting forward Corey Brewer had just two points, but coach Billy Donovan said the way he disrupted UNF's offensive attack can't be measured on the stat sheet.

"He's such an unselfish player," Donovan said.

The Gators' freshmen combined for 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

"As disappointed as I was with our freshmen opening night (Samford ended on a 10-2 run against them), I was pleased with the way they played tonight," Donovan said.

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3389.