Gators Win, Best Hoops Start In 21 Years

The Florida Gators continued their swing through uncharted territory in the Billy Donovan era Monday night with a fairly easy win over Alabama State that improved the Gators to 6-0. It's the first time in the nine-plus years that Donovan's been at Florida that the Gators have won their first six games and the first time that it's happened since the 1984-85 season.

Win number six was much easier than the previous three white knucklers as Alabama State offered decent resistance but not enough to threaten the eleventh-ranked Gators. The Gators led 45-32 at the half and cruised to an 87-60 win in front of an announced crowd of 9,281 at the O'Connell Center, but it's not the kind of victory that Donovan or his team got too excited about.

"It's one of those games where emotionally we've come off three different type of games, going to New York to play Wake Forest and Syracuse and then having a week off with a Thanksgiving holiday and coming back playing a rival like Florida State," said Donovan. "I don't mean this disrespectfully at all toward Alabama State, but you look at Wake Forest, Syracuse and Florida State and you're primed for an emotional letdown."

There was no letdown, in part because the Gators did come out and play hard and also because the Gators were just too tall, too quick and too athletic for the visiting Hornets. It was 10-0 before the Hornets got on the scoreboard and a full eight minutes before Taurean Green launched Florida's first three of the night. The Gators didn't need to take many threes on the evening because the Hornets just didn't have any answers for Florida's taller, stronger inside players.

When the Gators weren't getting the ball in to Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Chris Richard or Adrian Moss on the inside, Corey Brewer was putting on a clinic for dunking on the fast break. Brewer finished the game with 17 points on an 8-9 shooting night. He also had seven rebounds, five assists and a steal. Horford, Noah, Richard and Moss combined for 41 points on 11-20 shooting from the field.

Horford had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Horford also had three assists, two blocked shots and a steal. Horford and Brewer were joined in double figures by Taurean Green (18) and Lee Humphrey (13). Green went 10-10 from the foul line, stretching his streak of consecutive free throws to 24 in a row.

Florida shot a healthy 62.5 percent from the floor for the game, knocking down 30 of 48 shots. From the three-point line Florida was 7-13 with Humphrey pacing the Gators with a 3-6 effort.

Florida outrebounded the Hornets by a 34-24 margin and the Gators had nine blocked shots, paced by Joakim Noah who had four.

The only challenge for the Gators was to maintain their focus and play hard the entire game. Horford said that even though Alabama State was overmatched, the game was an opportunity for the Gators to play against someone other than themselves in practice, which is a good thing.

"Any time we can step out and play and work on our games, and work on getting better as a team is good for us," said Horford, who added, "You have to go out and play hard, you can't have any letdowns. We went through some slumps but we have to work on that and get more consistent."

The victory was number 199 in Donovan's career here at Florida. He will have a chance at number 200 Saturday when the Gators play host to the University of Central Florida in a noon game at the O'Connell Center. Donovan noted that his 200 wins and Florida's 6-0 start point out one thing that stands out in Florida's basketball history.

"I think really what it shows is the lack of basketball tradition here at the University of Florida," said Donovan. "There's two teams in the history of the school that started 7-0 or 8-0, I'm not sure what the exact number is but that's mind boggling."

Donovan has won 20 or more games for seven consecutive years at UF. Prior to his arrival 10 years ago, the Gators had won 20 or more only five times in school history. As for good starts, Donovan's best starts were the 1997-98, 1998-99 and 2003-04 seasons when Florida won its first five to begin the season.

"We have had some very good teams here over the last ten years that haven't been 6-0 or 7-0 or haven't gotten off to a start like we've gotten off to but it doesn't mean anything," said Donovan. "It's nice to do something that hasn't been done here in 21 years but it's not like it moves you any closer to any goals you're trying to have.

"What it really shows people is the lack of tradition that's been here in basketball over an extended period of time. If you look at Carolina, Duke, Kentucky or Kansas, how many times did they start their season off 6-0 or 7-0 or 8-0 or 10-0? I'm sure it's a lot. It shows that we're trying to build some tradition here, trying to build something here but I don't think it ensures that you have a great season because the last team that did that didn't make the NCAA Tournament."

After the 7-0 start in the 1984-85 season, the Gators were under .500 the rest of the way, finishing at 18-12. Florida made the NIT that year and lost in the first round to Southwestern Louisiana.

Donovan should become the second coach in Florida history to reach the 200 win plateau Saturday against Central Florida, which is coached by former Gator assistant Kirk Speraw. Norm Sloan (235 wins) is the school's all time leader but it took Sloan 15 years to get there. Donovan should eclipse Sloan as the all-time leader by next season.

The wins are nice, says Donovan, but he doesn't necessarily believe they belong to him.

"I don't have 200 wins," he said. "Mike Miller does, Udonis Haslem does, Taurean Green does, (Joakim) Noah does …every guy that's here because it's more tham and more the school. I happen to be the leader but I never look at it like it's my record and these are my wins. It's the guys who went out on the floor and performed.

"When I see that we've been able to win as much as we've been able to win the last ten years I feel very, very fortunate that I've had some very, very good players who have been able to win a lot and be successful. I didn't do it by myself. I didn't make one basket tonight. It's the team. It's the players."

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