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Gators come alive late to bury Ole Miss

Kenyan Weaks' timely baskets help UF break open a close game and advance.

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2000


ATLANTA -- Normally, Florida guard Kenyan Weaks might take some flak for missing a fastbreak layup. But his teammates likely will forgive him this time.

He made all the tough shots.

Weaks scored 18 points, including 4 of 4 three-pointers, to pace No. 11 Florida to an 89-67 victory over Mississippi in the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament Thursday at the Georgia Dome.

"That's what he's supposed to do, and it was great to see him step up," coach Billy Donovan said. "He's a senior, he's been here, he understands what it's all about. He was the one who really broke the game open for us."

The Gators (24-6) play Auburn (21-8) at 7:30 tonight. The Tigers had a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed in the Western Division, but they lost their final three games and fell from the national rankings after star forward Chris Porter was suspended for taking money from an agent.

Florida handed Auburn its worst loss of the season, 88-59 in Gainesville on Feb. 27, the day after Porter was suspended. But the Gators do not expect an easy path to the semifinal rounds.

"You're dealing with a senior, veteran team with a tremendous amount of character and heart," Donovan said. "When we played them in Gainesville, we played against a team that is completely different than they are today. They're a good basketball team, even without Chris Porter."

Without Weaks, Florida might have made an early exit.

Weaks missed his first attempt, a running bank shot, and his last, a fastbreak layup. In between, he made eight straight: four three-pointers, two field goals and two free throws.

"He's been doing that ever since he's been at Florida," Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes said. "He's consistent, and he's patient. He doesn't force many shots. If you leave him open, he's going to knock down shots, and that's a sign of a veteran, a guy showing a lot of leadership."

Weaks' baskets were timely. Ole Miss took its biggest lead, 23-14 with 10:07 left in the first half, before Weaks hit his second consecutive three. Early in the second half, Florida trailed 43-40 when Weaks tied the score with a three.

The Gators did not trail again.

Four minutes later, Weaks' final three-pointer on an inbounds play coming out of a timeout gave Florida its biggest lead to that point, 56-49 with 10:54 to play. It came early in a 19-0 run that decided the game.

"I had some open looks at the basket, and I was fortunate to knock them down," said Weaks, who started UF's past two games but didn't pout when Donovan said he needed a strong outside shooter to bring off the bench. "If it's going to help the team, I'm all for it."

Florida, which won a share of the regular-season title, said it wasn't bothered by having to play in the first round. But for a while it looked more like the Gators weren't going to bother. Florida was less than crisp to start, missing its first six three-point attempts and giving up dunks on Ole Miss' first three baskets.

But the Gators pulled ahead with a 17-2 run in which leading scorer Mike Miller, scoreless in the first 10 minutes, made four straight baskets for eight of his 10-first half points.

The Gators led 35-32 at halftime.

Ole Miss hit back-to-back three-pointers to take a 40-37 lead early in the first half. But the Gators' uptempo style and full-court pressure began to take its toll on the Rebels. With the score tied at 45, Florida's run turned a close game into a rout.

"That was right when they started to wear down a little bit," said Miller, who had 15 points and seven rebounds. "Our guys came off the bench with a lot of energy. That's a credit to our style of play."

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