THAT Bench Makes Gators an NCAA Team

After a series of games in which Florida got virtually nothing off the bench, the Florida reserves were a key in the Gators' 78-70 win over Auburn that kept the team's NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

Florida's win, coupled with the Vanderbilt win over Ole Miss clearly puts Florida fourth in the pecking order for the Big Dance as far as the SEC is concerned, and it wouldn't have happened without the guys on the bench.

If the Gators had gotten that kind of bench productivity throughout the SEC season there would be no debate as to whether or not this team was headed back to the NCAA Tournament.

Dan Werner had his best game in almost two months with nine points, four rebounds, two steals and two assists in his 25 minutes on the floor. I would give an assist to the O'Connell Center crowd which cheered every positive play with a passion rarely heard in the last three seasons. Werner made shots, made heads up plays and was a major factor in Florida improving to 18-8 on the year and 7-4 in the SEC. He wasn't alone, however as Eric Murphy enjoyed his best SEC game with seven points and three assists while Ray Shipman added two points and two boards. That's 18 points and nine rebounds for the trio that played 51 minutes.

The win was critical for the Gators after consecutive losses to South Carolina and Xavier. Despite all the issues this team has wrestled with, they are still tied for the third best record in the SEC with five games to play. Ad for the first time in a long time, they have the bench to thank for it.


Next up for the Gators is the quickest turnaround since back-to-back games in Atlantic City in November. The Gators will play Ole Miss at 11:00 a.m. local time on Saturday morning with a great deal on the line. Ole Miss is not just 5-6 in the SEC and a loss to the Gators all but assures them of an NIT bid unless they make a deep NCAA Tournament runs. Meanwhile the Gators enter the game on an up tick, but every bit as much in need of a resume passing win.

Ole Miss is quite a bit like Auburn in that the team is dominated back a deep backcourt with a thin an inconsistent frontcourt. The guard trio of Chris Warren (16), Terrico White (15) and Eniel Polynice (11) combine for about 42 points a game plus 11 rebounds and nine assists. Murphy Holloway is the best of the big guys and is good for about 10 points and seven rebounds a night.

Ole Miss goes a bit deeper than the Gators with nine players averaging 14-plus minutes a game. Reginald Buckner and DeAundrae Cranston give them muscle off the bench while Trevor Gaskins adds some long range shooting.

Ole Miss has lost four of five and it'll be interesting to see just how much of a sense of urgency they come out with. The Vandy game was categorized as a "must win" by many, which makes you wonder what the Florida game is.

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