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March 16, 2006

Humphrey leads Florida over South Alabama

Box score

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Florida coach Billy Donovan spent three days preaching to his players about taking advantage of their size against South Alabama.

It didn't truly sink in until after a halftime tirade Thursday.

Donovan ripped his team following a lackluster first half filled with ill-advised shots, then sat back and watched Lee Humphrey, Joakim Noah and Al Horford do everything right.

Humphrey scored 20 points - including 12 on four 3-pointers in the second half - Noah and Horford dominated inside, and the third-seeded Gators routed 14th-seeded South Alabama 76-50 in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

''I went off pretty good at halftime,'' Donovan said. ''I was getting frustrated watching balls go up from the 3-point line when guys are standing in the post with a 6-6 guy guarding them. They finally got the message.''

Florida (28-6) 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 a highly partisan crowd at Veterans Memorial Arena - about 75 miles from Gainesville - the Gators turned a six-point lead into a rout after the break.

They did it with a flurry of dunks and a handful of wide-open 3-pointers created when the Jaguars collapsed on Florida's big men.

Noah finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five blocks. Horford had 14 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.

''We definitely did a better job driving into the paint in the second half,'' Noah said. ''That was something we definitely spoke about in the locker room.''

Humphrey benefited from the adjustment, too. He 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 Donovan and John Pelphrey.

''He told me he was proud of me,'' said Pelphrey, who has been mentioned as a candidate for the job at Mississippi. ''I think that makes the 951st time in the last two weeks.''

Pelphrey and Donovan essentially grew up coaching together. Pelphrey was Donovan's right-hand man for eight years, first at Marshall and then at 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 the Gators, 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.

''That's the one thing that's been great about our basketball teams over the years - they've earned their way in,'' Donovan said. ''Now, we've got to make something happen.''

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. Leading scorer Mario Jointer added 10 points and seven rebounds.

''We tried; we were courageous. Florida was just better than us,'' Pelphrey said.

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