Lucas Carries Gators past Auburn

The Florida Gators overcame a slow start to pick up their second conference win after holding off visiting Auburn, 72-56, at the O'Connell Center on Saturday. Freshman point guard Jai Lucas led the way for the Gators, scoring 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor,which included three straight baskets down the stretch to hold off the Tigers.

Auburn (9-5, 0-2 SEC) jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead, forcing Billy Donovan to use a timeout less than 90 seconds into the game, but Florida (15-2, 2-0 SEC) fought their way back to tie the score by the midpoint of the first half.

"I don't think our guys got off to a 7-0 deficit because of lack of focus or lack of preparation," Donovan said. "There have been sometimes where I have said these guys don't have their heads where they need to be. It's a learning process for these guys. There are so many situations that we haven't faced yet, and I don't know how they're going to respond."

But Donovan got a little taste of how his team would respond when faced with some adversity. Not only did Florida fall behind quick and early, but they were also dominated on the offensive glass. Auburn grabbed 11 offensive rebounds in the first half, but Florida held them to just one offensive board in the entire second half.

"Their ability to offensive rebound in the first half really caused us some problems," Donovan said. "This is a unique team to block out. The whole floor is lopsided and tilted and you don't know who you're blocking out. I think 15 of their points came off of second chance shots. To me, it was good to see 11 offensive rebounds in the first half not turn into 18 or 20."

Both teams also struggled from the floor in the first half. The Gators finished by making 46.9 percent of their shots in the first 20 minutes, and they held the Tigers to just 12-of-38 from the floor. But there was a seven minute stretch in the first half where both teams only managed four points a piece.

"You had both defenses switching things up so often," Donovan said. "In the first 20 minutes. I don't know if one team was able to run one offensive play because there was so much disruption. We hung in there. In the first half the game went up and down the floor so quickly we couldn't tell what defense they were playing. As the game slowed down in the second half, we kept our composure. Jai Lucas made some shots that were key and then our press in the second half was a key."

Florida took a 33-29 lead into the locker room and would maintain the lead for the entire second half.

The Gators started the second half on an 18-10 run. Both Lucas and Nick Calathes knocked down 3-point shots, and Calathes and Jonathan Mitchell hit a pair of free throws each. Mitchell also scored with the shot clock expiring, and Walter Hodge knocked down a pair of jumpers to stretch the Gator lead to 12 points, 51-39.

With 4:30 left in the game, Auburn narrowed the Gator margin to five points, 61-56 after a pair of free throws by Quantez Robertson. After the four-minute media timeout, Lucas took over. The freshman point guard slashed through the lane and hit a runner. He then buried a 3-pointer and hit a jumper in the lane to extend Florida's lead to 14 points, 70-56.

"Our team put [Lucas] in some bad positions some times," Donovan said. "It's hard when you're a guard and the other team is pressuring you and you've got to make a play at the end. But I don't know if I feel comfortable with him having to make big shots at the end."

Dan Werner scored with 48 seconds left to end the scoring at 72-56. Werner finished with 11 points and five rebounds despite missing a start for the first time all season because of a right foot injury that kept him from practicing the last two days.

"He couldn't run and couldn't shoot," Donovan said. "I didn't know what to expect. I started Jonathan [Mitchell], and he knew what we were doing. The only thing I'm concerned about with Dan is does he think the rest of the season is to ride the bike and play games. For someone that I didn't know what I was going to get out of him, he played well."

Calathes tied Lucas for a game-high 16 points. He also dished out five assists. Speights also finished in double figures with 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds. The Gator defense forced 19 turnovers and blocked four shots.

Florida hits the road again this week to face Ole Miss on Wednesday night. They'll be back at the O'Dome next Saturday night to face Kentucky.

Questions or comments? Contact's Chris Chmielenski

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