March 16, 2006
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Florida's latest attempt to survive the first weekend of the NCAA tournament got off to a shaky start Thursday.
Then Lee Humphrey got going, and the rest was easy.
Humphrey scored 20 points, including 12 on four 3-pointers in the second half, and the third-seeded Gators beat 14th-seeded South Alabama 76-50 in front of a partisan crowd at Veterans Memorial Arena.
Florida extended its winning streak to six games and advanced to the second round of the Minneapolis Regional, where it will play 11th-seeded Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Saturday. Wisconsin-Milwaukee upset sixth-seeded Oklahoma earlier Thursday.
Fueled by the boisterous crowd - Florida played about 75 miles from Gainesville - the Gators turned a six-point lead into a rout after halftime.
They did it with a flurry of dunks and 3-pointers.
Joakim Noah and Al Horford combined for 30 points and 21 rebounds and dominated inside, not surprising considering Florida's significant size advantage.
But the biggest shots of the game came from Humphrey, who finished 6-of-8 from behind the arc.
He hit two 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the second half. His second came from way behind the line and followed another 3-pointer from Taurean Green.
Noah and Horford took over from there, helping push the lead to 14 midway through the second half. Humphrey put it out of reach with two more 3s. The first extended the advantage to 57-40, the second made it 60-45.
The Gators (28-6) cruised the rest of the way, leaving little left worth watching aside from the midcourt greeting between longtime friends Billy Donovan and John Pelphrey.
Pelphrey and Donovan essentially grew up coaching together. Pelphrey was Donovan's right-hand man for eight years at Marshall and then Florida.
Together, they made basketball matter in Gainesville.
Neither of them wanted this matchup, knowing it would send one of them home after one game.
Some thought it might be Florida, though, especially given the program's recent history.
Duke and Florida are the only teams in the country to be seeded sixth or higher in each of the last eight years. But the Gators haven't had nearly as much success as the Blue Devils in that span. The Gators have been eliminated in the first or second round in each of the last five years.
But for at least one game, they looked as though they might be ready to finally avoid the kind of upset that has haunted them in the last five years.
South Alabama (24-7), meanwhile, lost its fifth in a row in the NCAA tournament. The Sun Belt Conference tournament champions made the field for the first time in seven years.
Leandro Buboltz made led the Jaguars with 14 points, most of them coming on four 3-pointers. Mario Jointer added 10 points and seven rebounds.