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Joyful Gators wrap up SEC title

Chris Richard sums it up: The celebrations never get old.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published February 22, 2007


GAINESVILLE - Saturday, the postgame celebration was highlighted by Vanderbilt fans rushing onto the floor after an upset. Wednesday, the celebration centered around more school history for the Gators.

A 63-49 victory over South Carolina, coupled with Vanderbilt's 83-70 loss to Mississippi State, made the Gators the SEC East and the overall regular-season champion. It was only the second outright title for the Gators, who reigned in 1989.

When it was official, they cut down the nets without apology.

"We've cut down so many nets, but it never gets old," said senior Chris Richard, who tied a career high with 14 points and had six rebounds off the bench. "It is the sign of a champion."

The win gave Florida 25-3, 12-1 a single-season school record for victories and extended its home streak to 17 wins this season. Florida has just four SEC regular-season titles, sharing it twice, which is why when coach Billy Donovan was asked on Tuesday if he wanted an on-court celebration, his replay was an emphatic: "Yes."

"I hope because of the national championship last year people don't look at this and say well you're supposed to do it, it's no big deal," Donovan said. "It is a big deal. ... When you can claim only two outright titles in school history, what happened tonight was beyond significant in my opinion."

And it came without one of Florida's better offensive games. Florida shot 11-of-28 from the field in the first half, but gave up just 13 first-half points. After going 6-of-18 in their last outing against Vanderbilt, guards Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey were a combined 1-for-6 from the field and 1-of-3 from 3-point range in the first half. They finished with six and eight points, respectively.

At the 19:20 mark of the second half, Joakim Noah became the 40th Gator to score 1,000 points in his career, but the junior forward also struggled - he had 13 rebounds, just six points, despite the Gamecocks (13-13, 3-10) playing Florida's post players one-on-one much of the game.

"Lee, Taurean and Joakim struggled tonight, but our defense carried us," Donovan said.

South Carolina came out strong in the second half, scoring more points in the opening six minutes than it had all of the first half, but never got closer than eight.

"This was one of our goals at the beginning of the season," said Corey Brewer, who had six points and 12 rebounds. "We had won everything else but the regular-season title. It never gets old. We love cutting the nets down."

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