Florida gets fired up, survives scare

Published December 31, 2006

SUNRISE - Florida trailed by six in the second half when head cheerleader Joakim Noah emerged from a timeout huddle waving, clapping and shouting, "Let's go!"

The crowd roared, and eventually the Gators got going.

They played 32 minutes before they led, went five minutes without a basket down the stretch and still rallied to beat Alabama-Birmingham 75-70 on Saturday night in the Orange Bowl Classic.

The third-ranked Gators went 7-for-8 from the free throw line during the final 2:11.

"That situation they have been in before," UAB coach Mike Davis said. "You could look in their eye and see there was no panic at all."

The Gators (12-2) went ahead to stay when Taurean Green made two free throws with 1:32 left for a 70-69 lead, only their second of the game.

A steal and layup by Green increased the margin to three.

Al Horford made one free throw and Corey Brewer added two to close out the Gators' fifth consecutive victory.

"We didn't shoot particularly well," Gators coach Billy Donovan said. "Our frontcourt guys missed some baskets around the lane we normally make. But we found a way to win."

UAB (8-6) led by 11 in both halves.

"We realize we're going to get every team's best shot," Donovan said. "That's the best game UAB has played, but I'm not surprised. We're getting that from everybody."

The Gators increased their defensive intensity down the stretch, and the Blazers missed their final six shots from the field.

"The last four minutes, all we talked about was to lock up and get stops," Brewer said.

"We got a little confused at the end," Blazers forward Jeremy Mayfield said. "We got out of our game plan and were throwing it everywhere."

Brewer scored 19 for the Gators, who made 22 of 26 free throws, and Green added 18 points. Noah had 13 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots.

Wen Mukubu scored 20 and Paul Delaney III added 17 for the Blazers.

"In the first half, it seemed they didn't miss any shots," Green said. "But we stayed calm. We knew we had a long game and had to grind it out."

The Blazers shot 50 percent in the first half, going 6-for-11 from 3-point range, but the Gators held them to 31 percent in the second half.

The Gators made only one field goal in their first 10 possessions, fell behind 16-5 and trailed the rest of the first half.

Brewer banked in an off-balance 3-pointer with five seconds left to cut the deficit to 40-33.

"Sometimes we're going to have to make up ground," Brewer said. "You're not going to blow everybody out."