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Gators get act together in win

Some harsh words from a former assistant sink in for Florida's frontcourt players.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published December 7, 2006


GAINESVILLE - The call came shortly after Sunday night's loss to Florida State and the voice on the other end was familiar.

It was former Florida assistant coach Anthony Grant, now head coach at Virginia Commonwealth, calling for UF forward Al Horford.

Grant watched the FSU game. He saw the Gators' lack of energy, intensity and focus. It wasn't the same team that won it all last season, he said. And he wanted Horford and his teammates to know it.

"He called me and he said he didn't like the way that me, Jo Joakim Noah and Chris (Richard) looked out there," Horford said. "He really got after me. And I met with Coach Jones (assistant Donnie) also and they told me that I needed to get my mind right."

Message received loud and clear.

Playing "like the team we used to be," Horford was 8-of-13 from the field and had a team and career-high 21 points and 13 rebounds to lead the No. 7 Gators to an 85-67 win over Providence in front of 10,758 at the O'Connell Center on Wednesday night.

The Gators (8-2), still without forward Corey Brewer who has mononucleosis, shot 54 percent from the field and outrebounded Providence 30-20 on the defensive end. Florida's other frontcourt players, Noah and senior Richard, combined for 28 points and 10 rebounds.

"I was really happy with the way our team played, and the stage was set by our frontcourt," said Florida coach Billy Donovan, an alumnus of Providence. "I thought Noah, Horford and Chris Richard played well."

With nine turnovers in the first half, Florida led just 40-34 at halftime over the Friars, whose victories have included Boston College, George Washington and a 29-point win over Rhode Island. But the Gators opened the second half with a 10-2 run, then went on a 14-0 run that ate 4:23 off the clock. Noah and Horford combined for nine of those 14 points.

"I think I've been letting what people say about me get to my head a little bit too much," Noah said. "I just realized I've got to get back to doing what I do - run the floor, block shots, have fun out there and hustle. I'm just going to control the things that I can do. And that's help the team win.

"It was definitely fun tonight. If we want to do something special, that's how we have to play every game."

Donovan couldn't agree more. It's what he has been trying to tell them for weeks.

"The thing that was fun today was it was almost like they were out there playing and there was nothing in their mind other than just playing hard and competing," Donovan said. "And that's how you have fun. One of the things I've been trying to teach them through this year so far is you've got to have fun and you've got to enjoy it."

Providence (6-2) answered the Gators' run with a 12-0 run, but couldn't get closer than 10.

"Our guys battled," Providence coach Tim Welsh said. "We'll learn from this."

Among Florida's six double-figure scorers were guards Walter Hodge and Lee Humphrey, who had 10 and 12, respectively. Weyinmi Efejuku led Providence with 22 points and six rebounds.

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.