Gator fans weren't worried about top ten rankings or conference titles. No, they were worried about having a winning season and trying somehow to earn an eighth straight NCAA Tournament bid.
Well, things changed in a hurry, didn't they? It took all of four games for the Gators to change the conversation completely. Opening home wins over St. Peter's (80-51) and Albany (83-64) were pretty much expected, though a little more impressive than first thought. Perhaps the best early sign for this team in those games came from Lee Humphrey who made nine "treys" to show he could be Florida's long range threat. Next, the Gators headed to Madison Square Garden to face 18th-ranked Wake Forest. Taurean Green scored 23 while Corey Brewer added 15 points with five rebounds and three steals and the Gators posted a 77-72 win. That set up a contest with Syracuse for the "Coaches versus Cancer" title. The 16th-ranked Orangemen had the crowd, and a 62-60 lead with less than seven minutes to play. Then the Gators went on a 12-zip run led by Green and went on for a 75-70 win.
The Gators had made quite a statement and went from unranked to #14 in the AP poll. But was it too much too soon?
Wins After NYC Proved UF Was Legit
The first game after the wins in New York was a Friday night affair with the Seminoles of Florida State. FSU returned a solid nucleus and had eyes for the NCAA Tournament. The Gators had to show they were prepared to handle early success. And for the first several minutes, it wasn't looking very good. Florida fell behind 21-4 and seemed completely out of it. But the kids didn't panic. The Gators straightened things out and closed to within eight at halftime (38-30). The second half was all UF as the Gators outscored the 'Noles 44-28 for a 74-66 win. In what would become a familiar theme the Gators had five men score in double figures and Taurean Green knocked down 15 straight free throws.
After easy wins over Alabama State and UCF the Gators headed north again, this time to Providence to play in the same gym Donovan starred in 20 years earlier. The Friars were tough in the second half, but once again the Gators had five guys score ten points or more and won it 87-77. The Gators were now 8-0, two wins shy or matching the best start in school history.
After a win over Bethune Cookman, Florida tied the record 10-0 start with a 101-58 win over Jacksonville. But that wasn't the biggest news of the day. Corey Brewer registered the first triple-double in school history with 15 points, 13 assists and ten rebounds. The tenth rebound came late, with a lot of help from his friends who ALL boxed out allowing Corey to grab the rebound on a bounce. The Gators were now ready for another road challenge against a team with NCAA aspirations, the Miami Hurricanes.
Miami Home Game?
The game was on the University of Miami campus, but it sure didn't look or sound like a road game for the Gators. UF fans made it at least a neutral site as the Gators tried to avenge their loss to the 'Canes in the O'Dome last year. The Gators trailed most of the way, but with the score tied at 67, Florida scored the final ten points for the win. Giving a sneak peak at what was to come; Joakim Noah scored 18 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked six shots. The 1951-52 team's record was now second-best.
Two more easy wins gave the Gators a lucky 13 straight heading into the SEC schedule. Noah scored 24 and Horford had a double-double in a win at Georgia. Green's 20 led the way against Mississippi State and he added 21 more in a 69-57 win over Auburn. The record reached 17-0 with a total demolition of Savannah State.
With the 17-0 start, the Florida Gators had gone from unranked to #2 in the nation. They had gone from a team that might be hard-pressed to win 20 games to a team that was thinking much bigger thoughts. They had shown themselves to be talented, motivated and unselfish. They had shown themselves to be balanced and determined. The Gators had won at home, on the road and at neutral sites. They had rallied from big deficits and held off opponent rallies.
That's why the Gators' 17-0 start is our #9 Gator sports story of the year.