Florida 73, Arkansas 58

Florida ends struggling Arkansas' season with a 73-58 win Thursday night in the SEC Tournament opening round before 12,152 fans at the St. Pete Times Forum.

TAMPA - One of the worst conference seasons in the history of Razorback basketball program came mercifully to an end on Thursday night.

Walter Hodge had 16 points, Dan Werner 15 points and 13 rebounds, Erving Walker 12 points and Nick Calathes 11 and 7 assists as Florida toppled the University of Arkansas 73-58 before a crowd of 12,152 fans at the 21,00-plus seat St. Pete Times Forum.

It was the 15th loss in the last 17 games for Arkansas (14-16), who started off the season 12-1 in nonconference play and had wins over two top 10 teams nationally.

Any loss is tough," Arkansas freshman guard Rotnei Clarke said. "I hate losing with a passion. Everyone on this team does, including our coaching staff. This one especially because it ends our season. I know every person on this team wanted to see us in the NCAA Tournament and it didn't happen. We couldn't make a run and it's tough."

Michael Washington had 15 points and a career-high 18 rebounds, Clarke 11 points and Marcus Britt 10 for Arkansas, who has no seniors and who lost in the SEC Tournament championship game the previous two seasons.

"You know if you told me that we'd had Mike for 35 minutes and he'd get 15 points and 18 rebounds, I would have felt pretty good about that," Pelphrey said. "Just couldn't defend them well enough in the second half."

It was the most losses by an Arkansas team since former coach Stan Heath's second team went 12-16 back in the 2003-2004 season.

"Obviously we need to play better, we need to get more pieces," Pelphrey said. "But there is a level of toughness for always coming back, for showing up, competing and putting yourself in position where you have got a chance," Pelphrey said. "We understand the outcome is not what it needs to be and we'll work hard and we'll get better."

Florida (23-9) advances to play Auburn in a Friday night quarterfinal.

The Gators won despite shooting just 42.6 percent from the field because the Razorbacks shot just 40 percent and Florida forced 16 turnovers while having just 11 of its own.

"As they say, survive and move on," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "Right now you want to find a way to win. Your guys have got to compete to win...I thought Arkansas guys tried just as hard. Fortson competed, Welsh competed. Washington had 18 rebounds, those guys played hard. We were just able to make a few more plays to open up the lead. But certainly it was close most of the game."

The season-ender was a game like many this campaign for the Razorbacks, who were competitive at times in most games but sure didn't finish off many of them.

Arkansas rallied from a 29-21 deficit with the first half's last five points and then tied it 29-29 when Clarke's 3-pointer found the range with 19:24 left in the game.

Arkansas got within 39-38 on Marcus Britt's 3-pointer with 14:53 remaining before the bottom fell in.

The Gators went on a 10-0 run and eventually spread that out to a 19-5 spree on Hodge's lay-up with just under seven minutes left that put his team up 58-43.

"I think a couple of things happened," Pelphrey said. "We missed a couple of opportunties. We turned it over. They made a couple of baskets. It was a probably a smorgasboard of things."

Britt and Stefan Welsh hit consecutive 3-pointers to trim it to 58-49, but that was as close as the Razorbacks would get.

Courtney Fortson added 9 points and 3 assists and Michael Sanchez 6 points and 4 rebounds for the Razorbacks, who finished their season on a three-game losing streak.

"We had so many games, including this one that we were in down the stretch," Clarke said. "I think it is not being able to play defense well enough. We couldn't sustain play and do the things to finish the game off."



Photos by Marc F. Henning





Rotnei Clarke, Michael Washington and Michael Sanchez in the last few seconds of the game.





Clarke shoots a jumper over Walter Hodge.





Washington tries to defend Kenny Kadji.





Marcus Britt and Michael Sanchez defend Florida's Dan Werner.





Courtney Fortson drives around Alex Tyus.





Fortson and Clarke battle Chandler Parsons.





Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey voices his displeasure on a call.





Britt scored 11 points, including this bucket over Florida star Nick Calathes.





Michael Sanchez scored six points in the first half.


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