Gators Win 1st Rd

The No. 7 University of Florida men's basketball team opened up play in the 2003 NCAA Tournament with a first round win over Sam Houston State, 85-55 Friday night in front of 20,224 fans at the St. Pete Times Forum.

UF improved to 25-7 on the season, while Sam Houston closed out its season with a 23-7 mark. The victory was the 100th win in the career of seniors Matt Bonner, Justin Hamilton and Brett Nelson. The No. 2 seeded Gators advanced to the second round of the South Region bracket and will face No. 7 seed Michigan State Sunday night. The game will begin 30 minutes following the conclusion of the first game of the day at the St. Pete Times Forum, which will start at 5:00 p.m.

Sophomore David Lee scored a career-high 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the floor. Lee's point total marked the 13th time in UF history that a Gator scored 20 points or more in a NCAA tournament game. Lee scored nine of the Gators' first 15 points of the game and ended the first 20 minutes with 15 points. Bonner added to Lee's play in the first half by ripping down six rebounds, including three on the offensive end.

The Gators used a 7-0 run in the final two minutes of the first half to open up a double-digit lead at 38-23 heading into the locker room over the 15th-seeded Bearkats.

Florida jumped out to an early 25-11 midway through the first half, but Sam Houston used timely rebounding to turn it into an 8-0 run to cut the Florida lead to 25-19 with six minutes left. Lee's dunk at the 5:35 mark extended UF's lead to 27-19, which snapped a three-minute draught that saw the Gators fail to make a field goal. From there, the Bearkats kept it within six to eight points until the 1:40 mark, when Bonner drained a three-pointer, and Lee and Bonell Colas each threw down a dunk to push the halftime advantage out to 15 points.

The Bearkats' bench outscored UF 11-9 in the first half, but the Gators scored 15 points of Sam Houston State turnovers. Florida also outscored the Bearkats 11-2 in second chance points.

Florida used an 11-4 run in the first three minutes of the second half to extend its lead to 22 at 49-27. Hamilton, Nelson and Roberson followed with each knocking down three-pointers to extend UF's lead out to as many as 32 in the second half. The Gators shot 60-percent from three-point range (9-15) in the second half, while Sam Houston struggled shooting 33-percent from behind the arc.

Roberson and Hamilton were UF's other double-figure scorers. Roberson netted 16 points, while Hamilton scored 11. Nelson added nine points off the bench for the Gators. Bonner scored seven points and pulled down eight boards.

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