NASHVILLE -- Playing without Tyrus Thomas finally caught up with LSU on Saturday afternoon in the second round of the SEC Tournament.
With the league's freshman of the year and leading shot blocker out for the fourth consecutive game with a sprained ankle, Florida took advantage. The Gators continually pounded the ball inside to their big frontcourt and used a zone defense to slow down Tigers center Glen Davis.
The result was an 81-65 win for the Gators (26-6), who will face South Carolina (18-14) in the final Sunday at noon. It was the first time the Tigers (23-8) have lost since Thomas suffered the injury in a 71-67 win at Kentucky on Feb. 25.
Without Thomas' interior defense, the Gators big men did plenty of damage on the inside. Joakim Noah (15), Al Horford (10) and Chris Richard (10) combined for 35 points – all of which came in the paint.
Florida point guard Taurean Green also played one of his best games of the season, scoring a team-high 18 points. Green made all five of his attempts from the free-throw line and added six steals, which tied a career-high.
"When Taurean plays well their team is usually pretty good," LSU coach John Brady said. "Their post men are good and go three-deep. You have to guard every one of their guys, and we were one guy short tonight. We needed our team to be at full strength to beat them."
Florida focused much of its defensive attention on Davis, using a zone which left the league's player of the year double- and triple-teamed throughout the game. He finished with 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting and had nearly as many turnovers (six) as points (seven).
"We used the zone the night before against Arkansas (Gators won 74-71) and it was effective, but it was effective for a different reason," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "It worked because of LSU's lack of players.
"Davis was truly incredible last game (scored 28 in 92-73 win over Vanderbilt). He had post moves, hit 3-pointers and fade-aways. But, he got fatigued in the second half."
LSU, which won the league's regular-season title, did get some good news on the injury front. Point guard Darrel Mitchell - whose status was questionable after he re-injured a sprained ankle against Vandy - looked healthy, scoring 21 points and dishing out six assists.
Corey Brewer finished with 15 for Florida. Noah led all players with 12 boards.
Player of the game: Green. The Gators' floor general spent was sick Friday night and required IV's of fluid, but it wasn't obvious at all in the game. He scored a team-high 18 points – eight of which came during a 1:23 in the second half – and made all five of his shots from the free-throw line. He was also a big force on defense, tying his career-high with six steals.
Deserved better: LSU freshman small forward Tasmin Mitchell. On a team with two SEC player of the uear candidates – Davis and Darrel Mitchell – and the league's freshman of the year, Tasmin tends to get overshadowed. Brady has called him "the most consistent freshman in the SEC," and it showed once again against the Gators. He scored 20 points, grabbed a team-high nine rebounds and added three steals.
Key stretch: Florida's 10-0 run in the second half. With the Gators up 62-59 with 6:55 left, Noah found Chris Richard[/db] inside for an easy dunk that ignited the critical run. Green then got hot, knocking down 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions and penetrating to the basket for a layup and a 72-59 lead that put the Gators in control.
They said it: "In my opinion we won the title that is the most important. To me it should go to the team that shows its worth by going on the road and defending your home court over a 16-game schedule. There are so many factors here that don't allow the best team to win here sometimes. Look at South Carolina. Nobody picked them to get to the finals." – Brady.
Up next: vs. South Carolina, SEC final. The Gamecocks have upset the Gators twice this season, winning 68-62 at home on Jan. 25 and 71-67 in Gainesville on Feb. 8. "I am very, very excited to play South Carolina," Noah said. "It's going to be a war for us and it's definitely a dream for us. It's a game we wanted as Gators and we have to be ready physically, mentally, spiritually and any different way possible."