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Gators reach deep to clobber Crimson Tide

Missing Brent Wright, UF gets sterling work from its reserves in an 89-68 win.

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001


GAINESVILLE -- For more than a month, Florida was unable to play its trademark up-tempo style because it simply did not have enough healthy bodies.

Saturday, eight was enough.

Buoyed by its three-player bench, No. 7 Florida looked like the running, pressing Gators of old in an 89-68 men's college basketball victory against No. 14 Alabama before 12,362 at theO'Connell Center.

"We won the game because of LaDarius Halton, Bonell Colas and Orien Greene," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "They allowed us to press. It was great to see young guys step up."

Florida (20-5, 10-4 SEC) played for the sixth time this season without senior forward Brent Wright, who aggravated his right foot injury in Wednesday's 20-point win over Mississippi.

But the Gators, who also have played without guards Teddy Dupay and Justin Hamilton, did not flinch in beating their fifth straight ranked opponent.

"Guys are prepared to step up under any circumstances because of what we have been through this season," said center Udonis Haslem, whose career-high 28 led all scorers. "If we don't go through the adversity, I don't know if we perform the way we did."

Florida, which became the sixth UF team to win 20 regular-season games, was sharp in every facet. It pounded the ball inside to Haslem, ripped the nets from three-point range and got to the free-throw line 35 times. But most exciting was the Gators' determination to pressure the Tide every trip up court.

In scouting Alabama (20-7, 8-6), one of the SEC's biggest surprises, Donovan saw a team loaded with individual playmakers able to break down any defense. The last thing he wanted was for the Tide to have fresh legs at the end of a close game.

"Fatigue needed to play a part in this game," Donovan said. "I told our guys we had to dig down deep inside and find a way to be disruptive playing eight guys."

Greene, Halton and Colas not only allowed the Gators to play up-tempo, they contributed to the rout. Greene scored nine with three assists, a block and a steal in 20 minutes. Halton scored five with two assists and a steal, but three turnovers, in 17 minutes. Colas scored four with three rebounds and two blocks in 11 minutes.

Sophomore Matt Bonner, who started in Wright's place, had his eighth double double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Alabama stayed in the game by making 9 of 18 three-pointers. But as Florida stretched its lead to double digits midway through the second half, mounting frustration over what the Tide perceived as an officiating imbalance spilled over.

Trailing 81-58, Alabama was charged with three technicals in 34 seconds. The first was coach Mark Gottfried's second of the game, resulting in his ejection with 5:09 left. Center Edwin Dudley was called for slamming the ball against the backboard and Gerald Wallace for throwing Bonner to the ground.

UF made 4 of 6 free throws for a 77-60 lead.

"That was the turning point in the game," Alabama guard Terrance Meade said. "Coach was supporting us because he felt we weren't getting a fair shake on the calls."

Florida attempted 21 more free throws than the Tide, making 27. Going in, the Tide had made nearly as many free throws (478) as its opponents had attempted (493).

"We were aggressive taking it to the basket, and we felt we should have gotten to the foul line more than we did," said Gottfried, whose team was 7-for-14. "I was not trying to get thrown out. I wouldn't say the game was over at that point, but Florida was in control."

Wright, who had a screw surgically inserted in his foot in January to repair a stress fracture, is doubtful for Wednesday at Vanderbilt. Still alive in the SEC title chase, the Gators likely will have to play without him.

"If this had been the first time Brent Wright had been out this season, I don't know if we would have handled it as well as we did," Donovan said. "But we are a better team because of the adversity we've been through."

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