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Florida surprises Tennessee

Dupay sparks Gators in unexpected early return to court.

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 31, 2001


photo
[AP photo]
Florida guard Teddy Dupay dribbles downcourt against Tennessee after being out 20 days following surgery to repair a back injury.
GAINESVILLE -- Three weeks ago, Florida guard Teddy Dupay could not lift himself out of bed. Tuesday night, the eighth-ranked team in the nation couldn't keep him down.

Playing for the first time since Jan. 10 back surgery, Dupay's emotion-charged return staked No. 13 Florida to an 81-67 upset of rival Tennessee before 12,048 at the O'Connell Center.

Dupay had 10 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists and 2 steals in 15 minutes of play. But his mere presence was the greatest contribution to a victory made possible by grit, painkillers and intravenous fluids.

Florida glanced at the opposing bench Tuesday and saw in Tennessee a reflection of its former self. There sat five talented substitutes, waiting for their cue. Starters getting a little tired? No problem, here's five more.

Those copycats!

Last season Florida rode 10-player depth and full-court pressure all the way to the Final Four. Teams with more individual talent, but not nearly enough bodies, wearily succumbed to the Gators in the critical final minutes. And here it was happening to Florida.

Decimated by injuries, the Gators used six healthy players, plus two recovering from recent surgeries. Forward Brent Wright continued his comeback for foot surgery and -- surprise! -- Dupay played three weeks after surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back.

Dupay entered at the 12:32 mark of the first half, slightly out of shape but as feisty as ever. He hit the floor trying to draw charges, ran the wing on fastbreaks and, in the final minute of the half, dove for a loose ball. Wrestling the ball away from a Volunteer, Dupay delivered it from his backside to Brett Nelson.

The first half saw four ties and 11 lead changes, with the largest lead belonging to Florida, 28-23 with 6:20 left. Led by center Udonis Haslem's 11 points, the Gators led 36-34 at halftime.

Florida opened the second half with a 12-4 run to take its biggest lead, 48-38, on Nelson's three-pointer with 14:58 left. Matt Bonner had five points in the run.

photo
[AP photo]
Florida's Matt Bonner shoots over Tennessee forward Ron Slay.
Trailing 53-44, Tennessee called timeout. Three minutes later, Florida's lead was gone. The Vols got a basket from Marcus Haislip, back-to-back baskets from Ron Slay and a three-pointer by Terrence Woods to tie the score at 53 with 8:59 left.

But UF wasn't done.

And Dupay led the charge.

A crowd favorite for his long-range shooting, Dupay restored UF's lead with his first three-pointer since Jan. 7. His second, at 6:37, put the Gators ahead 61-56. After the basket, Dupay looked to the adoring fans in student section -- chanting Teddy! Teddy! Teddy! -- and tapped his chest.

With 4:30 left, Dupay was fouled driving to the basket. Unable to contain his emotion, Dupay flipped the ball to UT's Slay on his way to the free-throw line. From the sideline, Donovan signaled to him to settle down.

But things were just heating up.

When UF's Haslem fouled out with 2:55 left, Tennessee cut its deficit to 67-63 on the ensuing free throws by Isiah Victor. Teams that required three overtime periods to decide both their games last season appeared headed for another close finish.

But the Gators outscored the Vols 14-4 the rest of the way. Bonner, who started the run with a three-point basket, and Nelson scored 12 of UF's final points.

Bonner led all scorers with 21 points. Nelson added 18 and Haslem 17 for the Gators. Slay led Tennessee with 18, joined in double figures by Victor (12), Vincent Yarborough (11) and Tony Harris (10).

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