Gators Whip Canes, Improve To 11-0

MIAMI --- Florida's fifth-ranked Gators survived a gut-check Thursday night with an 18-3 run in the final 5:16 of the game to knock off the upset-minded Miami Hurricanes, 77-67 before a sellout crowd of 7,000 at the BankUnited Center. The victory sealed Coach Billy Donovan's Gators in the Florida all-time record book with their eleventh straight win, marking the first time in school history that the Gators have started a season 11-0.

Florida played the final five minutes of the game with energy and passion as they made every possession count on the offensive end, while on the defensive end they forced Miami into a number of bad shots and turnovers. It was at the half that Donovan encouraged his team to find the passion within to finish the game even though it was clear this was not one of Florida's best showings of the season.

"Emotion is something that can come and go and leave you," said Donovan, who encouraged his team to play the second half with passion. "If you have passion it's something that's going to stay with you."

Florida had staying power and that's why the Gators were able to pull the win out. The Gators had to fight their way through plenty of adversity in both halves. Florida had a 59-52 lead with 10:10 in the second half but Miami went on a run of its own to put the outcome of the game in serious doubt.

Behind Guillermo Diaz, Miami scored 12 straight points and held Florida scoreless for almost five minutes to take a 64-59 lead. At that point Miami was the hot team and the Gators were reeling, unable to buy a basket and without answers for the mecurial Diaz who was scoring inside or outside practically at will.

The rally began for Florida with a couple of defensive stops that stopped the bleeding. When Joakim Noah broke a scoreless stretch of 4:54 with a dunk follow of a Corey Brewer miss at the 5:16 mark, the Gators suddenly broke out of their offensive funk. On the next two possessions Noah was fouled going up for a shot and he converted three of the four free throws to tie the game at 64-64 with 4:10 left.

A Jimmy Graham free throw with 3:47 left gave the Hurricanes their last lead of the night at 65-64 and the Canes would tie it at 67-67 on a Rob Hite bank shot from the left wing but it was all Florida the rest of the way.

Al Horford scored off a perfect pass from Noah to put Florida ahead for good at 69-67 with 1:54 remaning. Noah ran the floor to finish a sequence that began with a Horford rebound and a a crosscourt pass from Lee Humphrey to Taurean Green. Green hit Noah in stride and the big guy delivered with 1:21 remaining to extend the Gators to a four-point lead. On Miami's next possession, Noah got a critical block that was recovered by Humphrey in a scrum on the floor. Humphrey saved the possession for the Gators by alertly calling time out before he was tied up. When Florida inbounded the ball, Horford was fouled immediately and the sophomore center responded by nailing both foul shots.

Florida scored the final ten points of the game to seal the spot in the record book. Green added icing to an already sweet cake by extending his school record consecutive free throw mark to 37 with the final two points of the game from the foul line.

The Gators were 25-33 from the foul line for the night including a clutch 12-14 in the final five minutes of the game. The great free throw shooting was a necessity because Florida had one of its worst shooting nights of the season, making just 22-57 from the field for 38.6 percent.

Noah's all-around game in the second half was the spark Florida needed. The 6-11 sophomore finished the game with 18 points, eight rebounds, six blocked shots and two assists. Two of those blocked shots came in the final two minutes of the game to help Florida come up with key defensive stops.

"He played very well," said Donovan. "He carried us."

The Gators played what was arguably their worst half of basketball of the season yet found themselves tied at the half, 33-33, when Brewer was fouled from behind while going up for a desperation shot with nine-tenths of a second left. Brewer, who hit a horrendous 2-11 from the field in the first half hit all three throws to tie things up.

As remarkable as the second half comeback was, Florida's come from behind effort in the first half was perhaps more improbable. The Gators shot just 10-31 from the field and had problems hanging onto the ball. Miami's defense was suffocating as the Canes overplayed everything down low and forced the Gators to move the ball on the perimeter. There were plenty of open shots from the outside, but in the early going, only Lee Humphrey could find the range, hitting 3-4 from behind the arc for nine of Florida's first 11 points. Miami played the Gators man to man when Humphrey was in the game but when he went to the bench with his second foul with 8:33 remaining, Miami went 2-3 zone the rest of the half.

The strategy worked because the Gators struggled to find any offense. The low post game was ineffective because when there were open looks down low, passes skipped off the hands of Florida's big guys. It didn't help that Horford, second in the nation in field goal percentage (72 percent) didn't get off a first half shot and spent the final 9:54 on the bench after his second foul.

The Gators seemed ready to go down for the count with 1:52 remaining when Anthony Harris hit three free throws to stretch Miami's lead to 31-22. At that point in the game, the Gators looked worn down and confused, particularly on the offensive end. Miami was poised to close out the half by stretching the lead but Florida found a way to scratch back into the game. Brewer got a three-point play the old fashioned way, a layup on a slash to the basket and a free throw with 1:38 remaining but Harris countered with a pair of free throws for the Hurricanes to increase the lead back to eight at 33-25.

Green, who had broken a 1-10 shooting slump by the Gators with a three at the 2:07 mark, got another three with 1:04 remaining in the half and David Huertas closed out a helter-skelter offensive sequence with a garbage basket with nine seconds left.

Harris pushed the ball up the court for the Canes but he was out of control and was called for a charging foul. On the inbounds play, Brewer took the ball up the sideline where Harris fouled him from behind.

Donovan was frustrated by Florida's effort offensively in the first half.

"We couldn't make a shot and we had pretty good ball movement," said Donovan. "We couldn't hit around the basket. We missed layups."

Florida responded to his halftime challenge. The Gators played with passion, especially on the defensive end of the floor. Donovan had been questioning how the Gators would respond on a night when they couldn't hit shots and he got his answer for a third win over an Atlantic Coast Conference team this season.

"Any time you can go on the road and beat a Big East or ACC team, those are quality wins," said Donovan, who also has wins on the road over Syracuse and Providence of the Big East this season.

Following Noah in the scoring column was Humphrey, who rebounded from his worst shooting night of the season against Jacksonville with a 5-6 effort from behind the arc against Miami for a season-high 15 points. Brewer had 13 and Green had 11. Off the bench, Chris Richard had six points and seven rebounds. He was 2-3 from the floor and is 34-40 for the season. Adrian Moss contributed four points including a couple of clutch jump shots in the second half.

Florida is off until next Thursday when the Gators play host to Florida A&M in a 1 p.m. game, a chance to extend the school record winning streak to 12 games.

"People don't remember how fast you get off, but they do remember how you finish," said Donovan, whose Gators will open play in the SEC on January 7 at Georgia.

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