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Archive for Sunday, December 24, 2006

Horford comes up huge for Gators

Center bounces back from bum ankle to key rout of Ohio St.

December 24, 2006

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— Florida center Al Horford looked "awful" in his first practice in nearly two weeks. He was tentative and clearly trying to protect his left ankle.

Nonetheless, coach Billy Donovan decided to throw him into Saturday's game against No. 3 Ohio State and see if he would perform better given the atmosphere and the marquee matchup.

The move worked even better than Donovan could have imagined.

Horford had 11 points and 11 rebounds in his return from a sprained ankle, keyed a crucial second-half run and helped the fifth-ranked Gators dismantle the Buckeyes, 86-60.

He proved his ankle is just fine, and so are the defending national champions.

"It was huge," teammate Joakim Noah said of Horford's return. "I know he's still not 100 percent. But just having his presence, his smarts, everything that he brings to the team, his rebounding, his physicality and everything. He's a hell of a player."

Horford, cleared to play after a morning shootaround, dominated his matchup with talented 7-foot freshman Greg Oden, who was in foul trouble much of the game and finished with seven points and six rebounds.

Donovan had said Horford would not play against the Buckeyes, but the 6-10 junior practiced Friday without any setbacks and was inserted into the game early.

He was much more effective late, though.

Ohio State (10-2) used a 9-0 run to start the second half and erase a 38-29 deficit. Then Horford took over.

"The first half I was a little nervous just because of my ankle," Horford said. "But then the second half I got more comfortable and decided to go out there and play and be aggressive like I always am."

OHIO STATE'S GREG ODEN, LEFT, gets his hands on a rebound over Florida's Chris Richard, center, while the Gators' Joakim Noah watches. Florida earned a surprisingly easy 86-60 victory Saturday in a battle of top-five teams at Gainesville, Fla.

OHIO STATE'S GREG ODEN, LEFT, gets his hands on a rebound over Florida's Chris Richard, center, while the Gators' Joakim Noah watches. Florida earned a surprisingly easy 86-60 victory Saturday in a battle of top-five teams at Gainesville, Fla.

He had two jumpers, two dunks, a layup, a free throw and several rebounds over the next few minutes to help the Gators (11-2) put the game away.

Taurean Green and Corey Brewer also came up big in the 33-9 run that turned a tie game into a rout and had the largest crowd in the O'Connell Center's history (12,621) in a frenzy.

Green had 10 points, including two 3-pointers, in the spurt. He finished with 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting.

Brewer, who had a 102-degree temperature in Florida's first loss against Kansas and sat out the second loss at Florida State, had 18 points.

Florida shot 74 percent (20-of-27) in the second half and looked very much like the team that swept through the NCAA tournament last season and claimed its first national championship.

"The games are a test," Noah said. "And Ohio State was like the exam for the first semester. We passed it. We got an A. We're pretty happy right now. We're going to show mommy and daddy the grade and then we're going to do it all over again the second semester."

The Buckeyes shot 36.5 percent for the game - well below their season average - and were outrebounded 42-25.

"I am in shock," Ohio State guard Ron Lewis said. "I never thought this team could be beaten like that. It is something we just have to learn from."

Mike Conley Jr. led Ohio State with 13 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals. He didn't get much from the rest of the "Thad Five," coach Thad Matta's highly touted recruiting class.

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