Youthful UF pulls off grown-up rally

Associated Press
Published January 24, 2008

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Florida coach Billy Donovan has run his share of huddles where he knew he wasn't getting through, and that, at times, has been with experienced players.

These days, with a group of Gators as young as these, "I haven't had that experience with these guys. ...

"They have a drive, a belief, a competitiveness that they want to win," Donovan said.

St. Petersburg's Marreese Speights had 22 points and 13 rebounds and Nick Calathes had 21 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer in Florida's 73-71 victory over South Carolina on Wednesday night.

Donovan was loaded with star power the past few seasons with players such as Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer, who helped Florida to two straight NCAA championships.

With them gone, Donovan has counted on an entirely new lineup. He starts two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior, a situation that seems ripe for mistakes.

Indeed, Florida (17-3, 4-1 SEC) trailed most of this one and was down 61-53 with just more than eight minutes left.

That's when the belief and will to win Donovan talked about kicked in with a 20-6 run that turned the game around.

Jai Lucas had two 3s, and Calathes' 3 put the Gators ahead for good, 68-67. Dan Werner, a sophomore, extended the lead with another basket from behind the arc and Speights closed the surge with an inside basket.

The Gators beat the Gamecocks for the fourth straight time and sent South Carolina coach Dave Odom off to defeat in his first game since announcing his retirement after this season.

"We lost to a team that plays well above their age," Odom said.

Odom had hoped detailing his future in midseason would imbue his players with a "nothing-to-lose" attitude the rest of the way. They played that way much of the game until the two-time defending NCAA champs took control.

South Carolina (9-9, 1-3) led by as many as nine in the second half and was still ahead 65-60 after Dominique Archie's flying jam with 5:57 left.

But Florida used its backbreaking run to pull things out.

"People say we're young, but we're making the plays," Speights said. "This should help us" during the rest of SEC play.

Florida 73

S.C. 71