Mississippi Takes The Bite Out Of No. 6 Florida, 68-51

Feb 16, 2002

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By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP Sports Writer

OXFORD, Miss. - Mississippi slowed the tempo, frustrating a quick and high-scoring Florida squad.

Aaron Harper scored 18 points as Ole Miss gave its postseason resume a big boost by defeating No. 6 Florida 68-51 Saturday.

The Rebels' best shot at beating the deeper and more athletic Gators was to make it an ugly game, and that's exactly what they did.

Ole Miss (19-7, 8-5 Southeastern Conference) snarled the highest-scoring offense in the SEC, holding the Gators (19-5, 8-4) to their lowest point total in six seasons under coach Billy Donovan.

"They're an 80-, 90-point scoring team. We know we're not going to get into a race with them," Ole Miss guard David Sanders said. "We wanted to try to slow them down and make them work for everything they got. We tried to make them play our style of ball."

Matt Bonner was a one-man gang for the usually balanced Gators. Bonner had 19 points and eight rebounds. He was 7-for-11 from the field as the Gators shot just 29 percent.

Florida's other two stars - Udonis Haslem and Brett Nelson - were nonfactors. Nelson, who Donovan said was battling the flu, was shut out and missed all nine of his shots.

Haslem scored 14 points, but was 3-for-10 from the floor and in foul trouble most of the game.

"We haven't been dominated physically like this since my first year when we started three walk-ons," Donovan said.

Most of the Rebels' points came from behind the 3-point arc or at the free-throw line.

Ole Miss made 10 of 24 3s and knocked down 22 of 27 from the line.

Harper hit four 3-pointers. Sanders had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and his defense was largely responsible for Nelson's first scoreless game in over two years.

Justin Reed had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Ole Miss, including a 3-pointer with 2:38 left to put the Rebels up 57-46.

 

 

Moments later, Harper scooped up a Florida turnover and threw down a slam that brought a thunderous cheer from the sellout crowd. From there, the Rebels cruised to their first victory over a Top-10 team this season.

When Harper was asked if he thought beating the Gators will earn the Rebels their fifth bid to NCAA tournament in the last six years, he said, "It should."

Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes called it the second-biggest win of his four-year tenure, ranking only behind the Rebels' second-round NCAA victory over Notre Dame last year.

Having lost three of four coming into the game, Ole Miss decided to try something different - red uniforms instead of traditional white at home.

Sanders called them the Rebels' big game uniforms. The last time they wore them was against Memphis earlier this season - a game they also won.

The Rebels had a new look, but a familiar strategy. They slowed the game down on the run-and-gun Gators - milking the shot clock on nearly every possession and playing tight man-to-man defense.

It couldn't have worked much better. Ole Miss held Florida to its second-lowest first-half point total under Donovan and took a 27-22 lead at halftime.

Florida shot 30 percent and committed 10 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, prompting a halftime speech by Donovan that could be heard in the hallway leading to the visitors' locker room.

But Donovan's tirade failed to ignite the Gators, and their four-game winning streak was snapped.

"Ole Miss took us from beginning to end," Haslem said.

Florida's previous lowest scoring game was 68 points against Florida State in a win and Kentucky in a loss.

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