March 12, 2006

Gators get revenge and title

Box score

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Florida center Joakim Noah said he wanted to face South Carolina more than any other team in the SEC Tournament final - it showed in the final seconds of Sunday's championship game.

Noah made two big plays that clinched the Gators' second consecutive tournament title and their first win over the Gamecocks in three tries this season, putting back a miss with 10 seconds left to break a tie and blocking Renaldo Balkman's layup at the buzzer to preserve their 49-47 win.

"That was the game in a capsule," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "Noah's size and arm length and his sense for the game won out. He has a great sense for the game and he was right there for the putback."

With the scored tied at 47, Florida's Corey Brewer slashed to basket with the ball and layed up a floater over two defenders. The ball hit the backboard and fell off the right side of the rim before Noah caught it in midair and quickly laid it off the glass.

"It's all about being in the right place at the right time and luck plays a big role in that," Noah said. "If the ball had a different trajectory things might have been different, but it's just a great feeling. Everything went by so fast in my mind and the next thing I knew we won."

South Carolina's Tre' Kelley quickly raced down the court and fired up a 3-pointer from the left side that fell well short of the rim. Balkman caught the ball underneath the basket, quickly spun around and released it, but Noah was there to swat it away.

That ended what was probably the most poorly played game of the tournament. South Carolina needed 15:27 to score eight points. The 49 points from the Gators (27-6) was 13 below their previous season-low, which came in a 68-62 loss in their first meeting with South Carolina.

The Gamecocks (18-15), which needed to win to sneak into the NCAA Tournament, also struggled to shoot the ball nearly all game long. South Carolina was 18-of-60 (30 percent) from the field and 6-of-27 (22 percent) from 3-point range.

"I couldn't say that was a championship game in terms of beauty," Odom said. "I think both teams felt the pressure of the other team. I cannot remember the last time in a game of this magnitude where our team shot so poorly early on."

Odom said he felt his players were taking open shots, but were lured into taking too many 3-pointers by a two-three zone that Florida used nearly the entire game. The same defense was effective in the Gators' 81-65 win over LSU Saturday.

"For our team and most teams, South Carolina is a very hard matchup," Donovan said. "They get a lot of easy baskets in transition off your bad shots and they also hold the ball for nearly 30 seconds on nearly every possession. I just felt maybe playing them some zone would take that away."

Florida's Taurean Green was voted the tournament MVP after scoring 10 points. He finished with 20 in Florida's 74-71 win over Arkansas and 18 against LSU. He was 10-of-19 from 3-point range in the three games.

Brewer, who was also selected to the All-Tournament team, led all scorers with 16 points.

South Carolina's Tarence Kinsey, Kelley and Balkman, who also had a game-high 11 rebounds, each had 12 points. Kelley and Balkman were also voted to the All-Tournament team.

It was the fourth game in four days for South Carolina, which will get a chance to defend its NIT title and will likely host an NIT game.

Player of the game: Brewer. Playing just 35 miles away from his hometown in Portland, Tenn., the Gators' multi-dimensional wing showed his versatility and value. He scored a team-high 16 points, grabbed seven boards and added two steals. His defense also helped limit South Carolina's Bryce Sheldon and Kinsey to a combined 2-of-12 from 3-point range.

Deserved better: South Carolina junior forward Renaldo Balkman. The 6-8, 215-pounder provided solid post defense and made big plays for the Gamecocks all tournament long - that didn't change Sunday. Despite being at a size disadvantage, he slowed down Noah and the rest of Florida's big men. He grabbed six offensive boards and made four steals. "Renaldo was sensational with his effort," Odom said. "He has a propensity for doing the extraordinary and was terrific all four days. He is very popular with the media, fans and the players and most of the time he is very popular with me."

Key stretch: South Carolina's 9-2 run in the second half. Down 38-27, it looked like the Gators were about to cruise to an easy win. But Kelley and Kinsey both made a handful of big shots to set up the dramatic finish. Kelley found a wide-open Kinsey behind the arc for a 3-pointer and Kelly nailed a three on the their next possession. After a layup by Green, Kinsey hit a pair of free throws. Then, Kelley stole a pass from Green and pulled away for a layup that cut the lead to 40-37 with seven minutes left.

They said it: "I felt a bit confident in that shot. As I think back, I think I should have got it in, took it to the lane and try to find one of my players on the outside or inside." Kelley on his decision to take a 3-pointer in the final seconds.

More from the SEC Tournament:
Sunday's Championship Photo Gallery
Disappointing ending for Big Baby
SEC finalists know secrets to success
South Carolina advances to SEC final
Saturday Photo Gallery
Gamecocks winning turnover war
South Carolina's unlikely run continues
Friday Photo Gallery
Kentucky rallies to beat Alabama
Gamecocks take down Tennessee
Arkansas rolls over Georgia
Vanderbilt holds off Auburn
Kentucky pulls away from Ole Miss
Vandy's Nwankwo happy to be alive
South Carolina wins tourney opener
Thursday Photo Gallery
Wednesday Practice Notebook
Wednesday Practice Photo Gallery

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