VETTEL: Picking the Ten Biggest Wins

A season of epics firsts has come and gone but the euphoria surrounding the greatest season in Gator Basketball history won't die down for some time to come. This team came from dismal pre-season predictions to the ultimate, and did so in style. Florida posted 33 wins on their way to history and a permanent spot in the college basketball record book.

But which of those wins really stood out? Let's stroll down memory lane to pick out the most important wins that made 2005-06 a season for the ages. This is my ranking of the ten biggest wins in order. Not chronological order, but order of importance in terms of the context of the game at the time it was played, the situation it was played under and the caliber of opponent involved. There can be no debate as to which game would be # 1, but I think we can disagree about some of the others.

10. Florida 77 Georgia 66 ----- The Gators had lost three straight and some doubt was creeping into the heads and hearts of Gator Nation. Georgia was a team Florida dominated earlier in the year, but the Bulldogs came to compete and trailed by just eight at the half. Florida ended up with the win, but this was also the beginning of the dominant closing run of Joakim Noah who scored 37 in the O'Dome.

9. Florida 82 Wisconsin-Milwaukee 60 ----- Florida had not made it past the second round in five years and psychologically this was a crucial win for the program. "Spiderman" to the rescue! Corey Brewer scores 23, making five-of-eight from long range and the Gators reach the Sweet 16.

8. Florida 49 South Carolina 47 ----- Anytime there's a championship on the line, it's big. This was not only to defend a title, but to prove they could win a low-scoring grind-it-out type game. It also solidified Florida's seeding and opportunity to play in Jacksonville. Brewer leads the way with 16 points and seven rebounds.

7. Florida 74 Florida State 66 ----- The Gators fell behind 21-to-4 to a rival; a quality opponent that had NCAA ability. But the young Gators didn't panic. They got it down to eight by halftime and dominated the second half by a 44-28 score. Taurean Green made 15 free throws and Walter Hodge was the fifth Gators in double figures with ten big points off the bench.

6. Florida 74 Arkansas 71 ----- The Gators entered the SEC Tournament being projected anywhere from a four-seed to a seven. A win of Arkansas would virtually assure a top four seed, and would also avenge one of their six losses. This game was all about the back court as Green and Lee Humphrey combined for 45 points and ten rebounds.

5. Florida 73 George Mason 58 ----- I was tempted to leave this game out altogether because I was so certain the Gators would win easily. But, considering the Gators had exactly one Final four win in school history, you can not diminish the significance of the second. Joakim Noah set the tone for the Gators by blocking shots all over and save a short stint of sloppy play late in the first half cruised most of the night. The Gators punished GMU's sagging defense with a dozen three pointers… half by Lee Humphrey.

4. Florida 75 Syracuse 70 ----- Even those of us confident this would be an NCAA Tournament team thought Florida's youngsters would get a lesson at the hands of Syracuse in Madison Square Garden. Nnnnnot so much! Taurean Green earned tournament MVP honors with his second straight 23 point effort while Chris Richard was big with ten points and five rebounds off the bench. No game raised early season expectations or demonstrated this team's potential more than this one. And none built their self confidence as much either.

3. Florida 79 Kentucky 64 ----- The end of the regular season came on Senior Day in Lexington. Despite the win over Georgia earlier in the week, this game would set Florida's psyche for post-season play. No, this wasn't a great Kentucky team, but wins in Rupp Arena are always rare and special. A 45-31 second half routed the Mildcats and delivered a compelling message, "Beware of the Gators". The Gators second half defense was incredible, holding Kentucky to 9-for-30 shooting.

2. Florida 75 Villanova 62 ----- I'll admit it. I thought this is where the NCAA Tournament run would end. Villanova's three and four-guard rotation was a tough match up for the Gators in 2005 and should have been again this year. However, Villanova couldn't make a shot, and Florida's big men were totally dominant. Joakim Noah (21/15) and Al Horford (12/15) both had double-doubles and combined to block seven shots. Down the stretch, Taurean Green was 12-for-13 at the free throw line and the Gators were on their way to the Final Four for the third time.

Florida 73 UCLA 57 ----- Many over reacted to UCLA's total domination of LSU, but the thought this was a super team dissipated very quickly. Corey Brewer completely shut down Aaron Aflalo at one end, while providing the offensive spark at the other. Lee Humphrey basically put the game on ice with a pair of three pointers at the start of the second half and the title celebration was just about academic. Noah finished the NCAA Tournament with a record 29 blocked shots in the six games and was named the most outstanding player. Taurean Green had the finest 1-for-9 day in NCAA history with his incredible leadership of the Gator offense, dishing out eight assists against just one turnover. He, Lee Humphrey and Brewer harassed the talented Bruin perimeter players into terrible nights, while Horford and Noah combined for 30 points, 19 rebounds and eight blocks. For a season that was all about "TEAM" this game was the season in microcosm. Everyone contributed, including Adrian Moss who scored nine points in the first half.

So that's my top ten. It includes games from as far back as mid-November and as recent as just a week ago. The games reflect the key moments and challenges this team faced along the way and the times when Florida responded to the highest level of external pressure. The list features the most important wins in Florida's school-record 17-and-0 start as well as the biggest of the eleven straight wins to end the season.

So what do you think?


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