Gators Thriving Behind Second Half Surges

Defending champs moved to sweet sixteen with big final 20 minutes versus Purdue

March 19, 2007

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Maybe the Florida Gators make good adjustments. Maybe they wear down opponents. Maybe they can turn it on when they need it most.

Or maybe they're just a second-half team.

The defending national champions certainly have been in the NCAA tournament, outscoring Jackson State and Purdue 116-70 in the final 20 minutes of their first two games to advance to the round of 16.

"It's not how you start, it's how you finish," center Al Horford said Monday. "It's good when you get a good start, but it's not going to make the difference in the game."

At least maybe not for Florida (31-5).

The Gators used key second-half runs to win both games last week. They outscored 16th-seeded Jackson State 24-8 in the first five minutes of the second half and finished with a school-record 71 points after the break.

They trailed Purdue by seven points in the first half and were down 33-29 early in the second. But they put together a 7-0 run, followed four minutes later by a 10-2 spurt to seize control for good.

"We go in at halftime and make a lot of adjustments," forward Chris Richard said. "We realize how people are playing us, what they're giving up on defense and how we need to stop teams. It's helped us a lot.

"But we'd rather find a way to pick it up so we're not this second-half team. Because if a team gets too far ahead of us, then we might not be able to catch up. We have to turn it up a notch."

The top-seeded Gators would like to play better from the start, beginning Friday against fifth-seeded Butler in the Midwest Regional in St. Louis.

Coach Billy Donovan said several factors may have contributed to Florida's second-half surges.

It could be halftime changes. It could be his team's propensity to wear down opponents with their up-tempo offense, pressing defense, perimeter shooting and considerable size advantage in the post. It could be timely shooting.



It also could be an unfamiliarity with tournament opponents - a definite change from the Southeastern Conference schedule.

"When you see two and a half, three months of the same people over and over and over, you know how tall, you know how quick, you get a much better feel," Donovan said. "In this tournament, there is no familiarity. This is the first time you're going on the floor and seeing them."

So it takes time to adjust.

The Gators experienced similar situations in the Final Four last year. Behind the 3-point shooting of Lee Humphrey, they turned games against George Mason and UCLA into routes early in the second halves.

Humphrey hit two 3s during a 20-6 run against the Patriots coming out of the locker room, then sparked a 13-4 spurt to start the second against the Bruins with two more shots from behind the arc.

"I don't know exactly what it could be - halftime adjustments or just getting hot at the right time," Humphrey said.

Either way, it has become a trend.

Not only has Florida started NCAA tournament games slow, then turned it on after the break, the team has done the same much of the season.

In fact, the Gators have scored more points in the second half 25 times in 36 games. They also used huge second halves to overcome double-digit deficits against Alabama-Birmingham, Vanderbilt and Alabama.

"It's just our will to win and our sacrifice for one another," forward Joakim Noah said. "We've made a lot of good comebacks, but there are games that we've been hit in the mouth early and weren't able to come back.

"Those are learning experiences, and we realize you can't get hit like that, especially in the beginning of the game. There's no more learning when you lose in this tournament. Once you lose it's over. There's no more season, there's no more practice, there's no more playing with one another. We realize that."

Donovan had one other theory: sky-high expectations that have come with returning all five starters and trying to become the first team to repeat as champs since Duke in 1992.

"It's the expectation on this team that people are looking for perfection and we're not," he said. "We're a flawed basketball team like everybody else in this sport. There's no perfect teams out there and we're certainly not perfect."