Rebels Fall To No. 11 Florida, 89-67
March 9, 2000
By JENNA FRYER
ATLANTA (AP) - If depth is the key to a postseason run, look out for No. 11 Florida.
The Gators, who must win four games to win the Southeastern Conference tournament, used 11 different players Thursday to wear down Mississippi in an 89-67 victory in a first round game.
Florida (24-6) shared the SEC title with three other teams, but were seeded third in the Eastern Division - behind No. 8 Tennessee and No. 16 Kentucky - and forced to play in the first round.
Only one other team, Auburn in 1985, advanced from the first round to win the tournament. The Gators play Auburn, the second seed in the Western Division, in a Friday quarterfinal.
"In order to advance in the NCAA tournament and this tournament, you need depth and we've got it," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We knew all year we'd need 10 guys a night to get through this."
Reserve Kenyan Weaks scored 18 points for Florida and led four other players in double figures. Mike Miller scored 15, Udonis Haslem added 11, Donnell Harvey had 11 points and 12 rebounds, and Justin Hamilton scored 10.
Jason Harrison scored 20 points to lead the Rebels (17-13), who are likely headed to the NIT - ending a string of three straight NCAA tournament appearances.
"I hope the NIT will take a 17-13 team," Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes said. "If we don't deserve to be invited, something is wrong with the process."
Florida, on the other hand, is looking for a high seed in the NCAA tournament. To get it, the Gators need to win the SEC tournament and hoped an easy game against the Rebels would ease the battle.
But they struggled in the first half - they trailed by nine at one point - and needed a late run to take a 35-32 lead into halftime. That forced Donovan to use some players much longer than he wanted, too.
"This was a taxing physical game for 30 minutes," he said. "I was not
really happy because I would have liked to cut down on Haslem and Mike's
minutes, but we couldn't."
But he was able to successfully make a change to his lineup, giving Hamilton, freshman, his first start of the season instead of Weaks. That gave the Gators a pure shooter coming off the bench, and Weaks delivered with four of Florida's five 3-pointers.
"That's why they are so good, they are bringing four or five McDonald's All-Americans off the bench," Barnes said.
In the second half, there were just too many Gators for Mississippi. Florida used a furious 20-0 run to put away the Rebels and take a 69-49 lead with 6:58 to play.
"That is a good example of our style of play, they played a great first half and got a lot of easy baskets against our press," Miller said. "But we continued to do that because we knew they were only six or seven deep. And in the second half it became difficult for them to go up and down the court."
Florida did the most damage by scoring seven points in a 25-second span.
Brent Wright hit a jumper with 8:24 left and Ole Miss' Marcus Hicks lost the inbound pass two seconds later to Weaks, who was fouled and made two free throws. The Rebels didn't score at the other end, Wright hit a running jumper for Florida and was fouled. His free throw with 7:59 to play made it 65-49.
The cold-shooting Rebels, meanwhile, ended a five-minute scoring drought on Hicks' layup with 6:50 to play. But it was too late for Ole Miss, which was 4-for-22 from 3-point range and was outrebounded 41-24.
Hicks scored 19 and Rahim Lockhart added 12.
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