GATOR HOOPS: Canes hand Florida first loss

The usual frolic that is the Florida Gators December hit and run against in-state rivals took a rather unusual turn Saturday afternoon at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Instead of doing what most in-state rivals do when the Gators come out of the box sizzling, the Miami Hurricanes simply regained their composure and then outslugged eighteenth ranked Florida, 72-65, to silence a crowd of 10,862.

The loss was the first of the season for the 4-1 Gators and it broke a string of 26 straight wins against in-state opponents. This was expected to be another blowout win by the Gators, who handled their first three opponents in easy fashion, but to Miami's credit, the Hurricanes never backed off, even when Florida came out on fire to start the game.

Florida looked formidable in the first two minutes of the game while the Hurricanes looked very much like that team that lost to South Carolina State a couple of weeks ago. There was so much energy as the Gators blitzed the Canes 11-2 on that opening run, but that's when things turned sour.

The offense got stagnant. The defense turned pourous. Miami gained intensity and rode the play of its three-guard tandem of Anthony Harris (23 points), Guillermo Diaz (16) and Robert Hite (16) to pull off the stunning win.

"I don't know what happened," said freshman forward Corey Brewer. "We came out running and playing hard on defense. We got out ahead 11-2 and then we lost it. We just didn't have it anymore."

The Canes pulled back even with the Gators in the first half, and though Florida would make several mini-runs to take leads of as many as seven points, they couldn't put Miami away. If it wasn't breakdowns on the offensive end where it was often one pass, one shot and done, it was failure to contain on the defensive end, where Harris and Diaz proved too quick for Florida.

"They were able to get into the lane anytime they wanted to from the perimeter," said senior power forward David Lee, who had 16 points and eight rebounds for the game.

"It's tough to simulate their speed and quickness in practice because we don't have guys that quick," said Florida Coach Billy Donovan. "They really outplayed us. We just had a very difficult time guarding them and containing them.

"To their credit, they made a lot of tough shots. Diaz and Hite made some really tough shots. It wasn't all that we played such bad defense. Those guys made some very good shots."

Florida had a five-point lead with two minutes left in the first half, but allowed the Canes to get back in it when Hite hit a long three-pointer in the final 10 seconds to cut the gap to 32-30 at halftime. Florida came out hot in the first two minutes of the second half, a virtual simulation of the opening two minutes of the second half. The Gators got a three and a driving layup by Anthony Roberson (20 points to lead UF), a post up baseline jumper by Matt Walsh and an eight foot jumper by Lee to extend the Gators to a 41-34 margin, but again Miami battled back.

Florida's offense contributed to the Miami comeback with minimal movement, lazy passes and not a lot of effort to get people open.

"It really wasn't that they were taking us out of our offense and pressuring us," said Lee. "For some reason or another, we never got a grasp of what to look for in their defense. We were never able to find that rhythm."

Walsh had another opinion.

"We have been so unselfish as a team up to this point," he said. "We have to get back to that. If we play like this next week against Louisville, they'll beat us by thirty points."

Miami took control of the game by scoring six straight points to tie it at 50 with 9:20 remaining. Though the Gators would get three back to regain the lead, The Canes would go on a 10-2 run to establish a five-point margin.

Florida battled back with five points of its own, tying the game at 60-60 with 4:51 remaining when Roberson hit a driving layup and a free throw to complete a three-point play. That's when Harris took over for Miami with five points on a long three and a running jumper in the lane.

The Gators had one more run left in them, closing the gap to two points (67-65) with 47 seconds left on the second straight put back basket by Adrian Moss, but that was it for Florida. There was no more gas in the tank and Miami got five free throws the rest of the way to seal the win.

Donovan was at a loss to explain why the Gators couldn't maintain any continuity in their offense.

"There are things you need to stay in," he said, "but we didn't stay in anything. In the second half we weren't staying in anything. I don't know why. We didn't make shots. We didn't push the ball. We didn't play like we've been playing. For whatever reason, we didn't play well."

The Gators are idle until Wednesday when they host Stetson at the O'Connell Center, then next Saturday Louisville's high flying Cardinals, coached by Donovan's college coach and mentor, Rick Pitino, will come to town.

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