Humphrey, Green Torch Arkansas For 45 Points

NASHVILLE, Tennessee --- It was almost as if the Arkansas Razorbacks dared Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green to beat them from the outside Friday night. Arkansas collapsed everything on the inside to defend against Joakim Noah and Al Horford, but in the process they gave Florida's guards plenty of open looks which is exactly what the Gators needed to score a 74-71 win in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

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Humphrey scored a career-high 25 points, knocking down 4-6 from behind the three-point stripe, and Green went 5-5 on three-pointers in a 20-point effort to lead Florida (25-6) into Saturday's semifinals against LSU (23-7) at 3:15 EDT (CBS). The first semifinal Saturday (1 p.m., CBS) will pit Kentucky (21-11) against this year's Cinderella, South Carolina (17-14). Kentucky advanced to the semis with a come-from-behind 68-61 win over Alabama while South Carolina knocked off Tenness ee, the top seed from the SEC East, 79-71.

Arkansas succeeded in neutralizing Florida's inside game, holding Horford to 11 points and Noah to nine. Noah, who had scored in double figures nine straight games, was only 2-9 from the floor. The strategy backfired when the Gators came out smoking from the outside. Humphrey scored 16 of Florida's first 28 points in the first half and Green hit both his three-point attempts. Humphrey was 1-2 from beyond the arc in the second half while Green nailed all three of his three-point attempts.

When the Gators lost to Arkansas in Fayetteville back in February, Humphrey was only 2-11 from beyond the arc which might explain the Razorbacks' willingness to give him the open shot Friday night. He complemented the outside shooting with a willingness to drive the ball to the rack.

The willingness to aggressively look for scoring opportunities has transformed Humphrey into an all-around threat ever since the second half of the loss at Alabama a couple of weeks ago. In that game, Coach Billy Donovan lit into Humphrey during one time out, scalding the junior guard for his reluctance to shoot the ball. In the last two games Humphrey has been Florida's leading scorer.

"Ever since the Alabama game for him and maybe the tirade I had on him during a time out [he's looked for his shot]," said Donovan. "I'm hoping it's carried over and continues to carry over. He just has to let it go.

"It's really that simple for our team and tonight happened to be one of our nights but our team just needs him to jump in the air and shoot with that level of confidence. We become a very difficult team to defend when he and Taurean shoot the ball like that."

Humphrey praised his teammates for finding him when he got open and said the aggressiveness on offense is simply a matter of following Donovan's orders.

"My teammates did a great job of fi nding me when I was open and fortunately I made some shots," said Humphrey. "Coach has been on me to shoot it with confidence."

Florida built a 12-point first half lead behind the shooting of Humphrey and Green. When Noah followed a miss of a Green layup at the 6:01 mark, Florida had a 32-20 bulge but the Gators suddenly got sloppy, On their next four possessions the Gators turned the ball over and Arkansas converted the miscues into nine straight points.

It wasn't until Noah hit a free throw with 1:15 left in the half that the Gators broke a 4:46 scoring drought.

The Gators built on their 33-29 halftime lead by jumping on Arkansas for an 18-10 run in the first eight minutes of the second half. With Green knocking down two three-pointers and Humphrey hitting one from NBA range, the Gators bolted to a 51-42 lead. Florida had the Razorbacks on the ropes but in the next five minutes they were called for five fouls and turned the ball over three times to let the Razorbacks back within five at 56-51.

At that point Florida turned up the heat defensively, holding the Razorbacks to one shot and done on three straight possessions as part of a 10-2 run that gave the Gators a 66-53 lead.

The Gators had a blowout within their grasp but just like the end of the second half, they got sloppy with the ball again. The Razorbacks got the lead back under 10 (68-60) when Jonathon  Modica hit a couple of free throws with 1:08 remaining and the lead was cut to eight when Corey Brewer fouled the Razorbacks Ronnie Brewer after the Arkansas star picked his pocket on the inbounds play.

Florida turned the ball over again on the inbounds play with 59.1 seconds remaining and Arkansas converted that into a pair of Modica free throws to whack Florida's lead to 68-64 with 41.3 seconds left. Humphrey gave the Gators some breathing room with a pair of free throws with 32.8 seconds left but Modica sc ored for Arkansas to bring it back within four with 26.4 seconds left.

Noah was fouled when the Gators inbounded the ball and the Florida big man nailed both his free throws for a 72-66 lead with 22 seconds remaining. Arkansas countered with a three-pointer by Charles Thomas with 12.9 seconds remaining. At that point, Florida gambled by throwing long to Humphrey over the top of the Razorbacks press. Humphrey gathered in the ball like a wide receiver but he was fouled after a couple of dribbles. He hit both free throws with 9.4 seconds left and that secured the Florida victory.

Donovan admitted after the game that Florida's problems taking care of the ball particularly late in the game were a serious concern.

"You can't turn the ball over like we did," he said. "We had nine turnovers in the first half (17 for the game as opposed to 11 for Arkansas). We did a good job of defending and rebounding but Arkansas scored 25 points on the fast b reak and I guarantee you the majority of those fast break points were off of our carelessness throwing the ball away."

Florida advanced to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the third straight year. Should the Gators win against LSU it will mark their third consecutive year to make the finals and if Kentucky wins against South Carolina, it will also mark the third consecutive year that it's been a Florida-Kentucky final.

Florida shot 49 percent from the field for the game, knocking down 24-49 shots including a sizzling 10-15 from three-point range. Defensively, the Gators held Arkansas to 41.9 percent (26-62) and 26.6 percent from the three-point line (6-21).

The Gators outrebounded Arkansas 36-27. Horford led Florida with eight rebounds while Noah and Green contributed six each. Green also had a game-high five assists.


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