Gators Clamp Down On Hogs

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's a good thing Arkansas' game against Florida on Saturday tipped off before noon.

These Razorbacks weren't quite ready for prime time.

Coming off its 69-46 thumping of Ole Miss on Wednesday, Arkansas had visions of a perfect week to start Southeastern Conference play and a possible move into the Associated Press Top 25.

Instead, the Razorbacks' eight-game winning streak came to an end and the SEC road losing streak reached 10 games because of a merciless Florida defense, crisp Gators offense and too much David Lee in the Razorbacks' 82-74 loss to the Gators (9-3, 1-0 SEC) before 11,021 in the O'Connell Center.

Arkansas (13-2, 1-1) will get a chance to redeem itself in prime time (ESPN will televise) on Tuesday night in Fayetteville against No. 19 Alabama (12-3, 1-1).

The Gators were playing without leading scorer Matt Walsh, who was averaging 16 points per game before being sidelined at least a month after tearing ankle ligaments in practice Dec. 30.

Florida benefited from a game to adjust without Walsh and a week of practice to get ready for the Razorbacks, who came into the game leading the SEC in field-goal defense (37 percent) and just behind Florida in field-goal offense (50.2).

"We're disappointed we weren't able to come out of here with a win," said Arkansas coach Stan Heath. "We were confident we could come in here and steal one. We thought Florida might have a little bit of a letdown without Walsh, but that wasn't true. They stepped it up.

"It is a tribute to Florida being ready to play. They were prepared for us."

Arkansas sophomore Ronnie Brewer led Arkansas with 20 points on 7 of 16 shooting, but was well below his season averages with zero rebounds and 1 assist.

Junior Eric Ferguson added 16 on 6 of 13 shooting and had 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals. Sophomore Olu Famutimi had 13 points, with 11 coming in the final seven minutes as Arkansas tried to mount a comeback.

Brewer twisted his left ankle a minute into the second half, but helped lead the rally from down as much as 67-50 to within 78-72 with 32.9 seconds to play.

"It was frustrating a little bit, but I credit my guys," Ferguson said. "They didn't give up. They kept fighting to the end. They had almost a 20-point lead and we kept fighting."

A week after senior forward Lee played uninspired and took public criticism from Florida coach Billy Donovan in an 82-69 loss at Florida State, he played nearly flawlessly, scoring 17 points to lead five Gators in double figures to go with his 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks and a steal.

"We didn't think he'd come in and fall on his face," Heath said. "We tried different things to slow him down, but in the end, paying so much attention to him probably opened some things up for other players and allowed them to have a lot of balance in the game."

Paced by the veteran Lee, the rest of Florida's young frontcourt dominated Arkansas' rookie post players and the Razorbacks gave up several easy baskets, allowing Florida to shoot a season-high 59.5 percent from the field – 77.8 percent in the second half.

"I was not pleased with how we ran offense against FSU," Donovan said. "Our flow, our timing, our cutting off screens wasn't good. All we did was halfcourt execution over and over and over again (in practice).

"(Arkansas') perimeter group is so good, we had to disrupt their flow offensively. We went to a complete fullcourt press, we went to a halfcourt trap. We couldn't let them flow into offense. They're too good."

Lee (6 of 7), freshmen Al Horford (4-4), Joakim Noah (2-2) and sophomore Chris Richard (2-3) combined to shoot 14 of 16 from the field while scoring 37 points.

Arkansas' post group of freshmen Darian Townes (0 of 3, 4 points), Steven Hill (1-1, 2), Charles Thomas (1-3, 8) and junior Rashard Sullivan (1-1, 2) combined for 16 points.

"We didn't get as much inside production, and we've also been able to get more out of our defense," Heath said. "That's been our identity all season. We left our defense in Fayetteville."

Brewer didn't seem like himself in the first half, going 3 of 9 from the field and 0 of 2 from the line.

His first shot was a bad miss with the shot clock at zero on Arkansas' first possession on a play that set the tone for Florida's defense in the first half.

"I think they play harder on defense this year," Ferguson said of the Gators. "They executed real good and got the ball inside to David Lee. He's a more experienced player. Our big men are freshmen, so it's new to those guys."

Florida held Arkansas to 37 percent (10 of 27) from the field in the opening period and the Razorbacks didn't help themselves with several missed layups and another rough game at the foul line (4 of 8 in the first half, 19 of 28 for the game).

"We missed a lot of layups, free throws, and that cost us the game," Ferguson said. "It goes down as a learning experience. It's our first big road game. We'd only had one road game (a 62-52 win at Missouri on Dec. 7), so this is a learning experience right now."

Arkansas started the game 1 of 7 from the field and trailed 8-2, while Florida got off to a similar 2 of 6 start.

The Razorbacks' biggest – and last – lead, 18-15, came on a Brewer layup and a Ferguson basket, but a Richard dunk on a feed from Lee out of a double team and a 3-pointer from Gators freshman backup quarterback Cornelius Ingram put Florida ahead to stay.

The Gators pushed their lead to 31-24 with two free throws by Anthony Roberson -- who was held mostly in check on 3 of 10 shooting, but hit 8 of 8 free throws for 15 points -- and both of Noah's baskets, one on another dunk feed from Lee.

The Florida fans really started getting after Arkansas after that, but the Razorbacks quieted them a bit when Famutimi got an offensive rebound and basket just before the halftime buzzer.

Down 31-26 at the half, Heath expected one of the Hogs' "patented" second-half runs.

Arkansas was within striking distance at 45-40 with less than 15 minutes to play, but Lee Humphrey hit a 3-pointer and Brewer shot an airball.

Richard dunked off a breakdown in Arkansas' press and Lee knocked away a Brewer alley-oop pass.

Lee finished at his end with a reverse layup and blocked Arkansas' next shot to set up another Humphrey 3-pointer. The net result was a 10-0 Florida run in just two minutes.

"I tell our freshmen all the time, ‘The game can be decided in a short amount of time,'" Heath said. "It was a three-minute, four-minute stretch where they went on a run and we couldn't put out the fire."


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