Gators Rise To Challenge

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No Matt Walsh. No Adrian Moss. No David Lee in its last game, a humiliating loss in Tallahassee six days earlier to rival Florida State.

Florida arrived at the O'Connell Center on Saturday with as many question marks as the young Arkansas team seeking to make a name for itself in the Southeastern Conference.

The Gators got some of the answers they were hoping for in their 82-74 win, snapping the Razorbacks' eight-game winning streak and proving that at least for now, the young Hogs have room to grow before they can erase doubts about whether their 13-1 start is for real.

In Florida's first SEC game of the season, the Gators used a smothering defense and a physical presence inside to help dodge some of the questions surrounding the team, such as:

w How would they replace injured starter Matt Walsh's offense?

w Could they overcome the loss of emotional leader Adrian Moss with a herniated disc?

w And what about Lee? Would the senior forward show up after vanishing in the loss to FSU?

Lee not only came to play Saturday, but he nearly answered most of the questions himself by scoring a team-high 17 points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists.

"You can tell he's a veteran,'' Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. "Two years in a row he's been the major difference when we played them.''

While Lee's outburst was a key factor in Arkansas' 10th consecutive SEC road loss dating back to last season, Gators coach Billy Donovan said the first 10 minutes of the game helped his team establish the tone.

From there, Donovan learned some things about his team after questioning how good they really were after the FSU loss.

"There are a lot of things out there to cause people to doubt,'' Donovan said. "I was proud of the way our team responded, their resiliency and the way they worked so hard on both ends of the floor without their leading scorer."

Florida gained control early, led 31-26 at halftime and then raced to a 17-point lead in the second half behind Lee's dominance inside and Lee Humphrey's hot shooting (three 3-pointers) from the outside. The Razorbacks made a late charge in the second half, but by that time the more-experienced Gators had proven their point.

"We had intensity from the start,'' Humphrey said. "We had three tough losses (to motivate us). The team came together and really played well. It's only one win. We know that. But we know now that we can compete and play well every night."

Senior guard Anthony Roberson, who finished with 15 points, said Florida has a lot to prove the same way Arkansas does. For Florida, it's trying to show it is one of the elite teams in the country.

"We knew we had to leave the past behind us," Roberson said. "I think everyone understands. All we can do is look forward. A lot of things can change with this program with these players. I think everybody realizes what's at stake."

The test Arkansas faces is proving it can once again compete in the SEC after struggling in Heath's first two seasons in Fayetteville.

"We were confident we could come in here and steal one,'' Heath said. "We thought Florida might have a little bit of a letdown without Walsh. That wasn't true. They were prepared for us."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories