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Closer calls, same results

A year after blowing through the NCAAs, UF has had to battle but has adjusted.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published March 25, 2007


ST. LOUIS - The Florida basketball team hopes everyone has figured this out, but in case it's still not clear here it is: This isn't last year's NCAA Tournament.

Unlike last season when the Gators dominated opponents, particularly in the second half, the defending national champions have trailed after halftime in every NCAA Tournament game.

In the role of comeback kids, the Gators have excelled.

"Our team has good focus, and that's been key for us down the stretch," senior guard Lee Humphrey said. "We know games are long and we're not going to be able to blow out every team. Last year's team, we were up every game, and this year has been different. But I think our team has a lot of confidence in ourselves, that we can stay focused and take it possession by possession."

This is the same team that three weeks ago won three games on its way to an SEC championship, and never trailed.

But there are no familiar foes in the NCAA Tournament, which makes dominating an opponent far less likely, UF coach Billy Donovan said.

"When you see 21/2, three months of the same people over and over, you know how tall, how quick, you get a much better feel," Donovan said. "In this tournament, there is no familiarity. This is the first time you're going on the floor and seeing them."

The Gators outscored Jackson State and Purdue 116-70 in the second half of their first two tournament games. Friday, Florida did just enough in the second half, outscoring Butler 30-28 to secure a 65-57 victory.

Top-seeded Florida may find itself in a similar battle down the stretch today when it faces No. 3-seeded Oregon for the right to advance to the Final Four.

The Ducks play a four-guard offense, dominated by speed and quickness to compensate for their lack of size. Florida expects to get Oregon's best shot, another factor to which Donovan attributes his team's close games.

"I think maybe some people are surprised there's such a battle and we've gotten behind," he said. "I don't think it's surprised our guys. I don't sense that our guys get frustrated. I think there's great respect and they know that as we try to scout, these other teams also scout. There's more film (of Florida) available. There's a better understanding. ...

"I don't think our guys go into games with an opinion of themselves that we're just going to step on the floor and play hard and we're going to win this going away. They understand this is going to be a battle for 40 minutes."

Key second-half runs have been a huge part of those battles. Florida outscored undermanned Jackson State 24-8 in the first five minutes of the second half. Trailing Purdue 33-29 early in the half, Florida had runs of 7-0 and 10-2 to take control. The Gators trailed Butler 54-53 on Friday night with 3:33 left but closed out on an 11-3 run.

The Gators' ability to keep from collapsing down the stretch could be attributed to experience from the regular season. Florida has outscored opponents in the second half 26 of 37 games.

"Basically we know we've got to stay together," junior forward Corey Brewer said. "As long as the game is close, when it comes to the last four minutes, we know we've got to execute and we've got to get the ball where it needs to go. You have to make big shots and make free throws if you're going to win in the tournament. A lot of it (strong finishes) has to do with being together for so long. We know each other so well and we know where the ball needs to go at the right time.

"This team won't panic."

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Florida vs. Oregon

2:40 today, Ch. 10