January 5, 2002
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Udonis Haslem gave himself a chance to make a difference against South Carolina this time.
Avoiding foul trouble, Haslem had 24 points and 10 rebounds as Florida (No. 2 ESPN/USA Today, No. 3 AP) began defense of its Southeastern Conference championship by beating the Gamecocks 69-60 Saturday.
The 6-foot-9 center played a total of 27 minutes in two games against South Carolina last season, but Saturday he helped the Gators end a three-game losing streak in SEC openers.
“The difference was staying out of foul trouble,” Haslem said. “My focus out there wasn’t on scoring. My focus was just on being on the court. … I think I played a lot smarter. I just credit that to experience.”
The Gators (12-1) won their school-record 11th straight game, building a 31-24 halftime lead and breaking it open with a 12-2 surge late in the second half.
Haslem, who made nine of 13 shots, keyed the spurt with a short jumper and a rebound dunk.
“I thought he was great in that he kept himself on the floor and he figured out a way to score and contribute,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
Haslem, Matt Bonner and Orien Greene were the only Florida players to score in the second half until James White’s 3-pointer increased the lead to 60-43 with 5:01 left.
South Carolina (10-4) did a decent job of handling Florida’s relentless fullcourt defensive pressure. But the Gamecocks missed 23 of 32 shots in the opening half and shot just 37 percent (23-for-62) for the game.
“While I think we handled their press reasonably well, I do think it had an effect on us,” South Carolina coach Dave Odom said.
“It took time off the clock and made us expend a lot of energy getting the ball up the court. When we did get the ball up the court, it gave us less time to run our set offense and we ended up taking some ill-advised shots.”
Marius Petravicius, the Gamecocks’ 6-foot-10 center from Lithuania, had an especially tough time working against Haslem near the basket. Petravicius made just three of 10 shots and only went to the foul line once.
“Marius was in there flailing around … trying to show he got fouled,” Odom said. “He knows I love him to death. But come on, you have to go play.”
Despite the loss, South Carolina has won nine of 11 since losing to Duke and UCLA on successive nights in November. Aaron Lucas led the Gamecocks with 14 points, and Jamel Bradley had 10 of his 13 in the second half.
South Carolina upset Florida 69-68 in last season’s SEC opener, overcoming a 10-point deficit in the final five minutes at home. But the closest the Gamecocks could get down the stretch Saturday was nine on three free throws by Lucas in the closing seconds.
Florida uncharacteristically committed more turnovers (22) than it forced (16). And Donovan wasn’t happy about the way South Carolina was able to trim the Gators’ double-digit lead in half in the last five minutes.
“We were fortunate to win,” Donovan said. “It was good the way it ended because it gives me a lot of things to work on as a coach.”
Bonner, Florida’s second-leading scorer with a 15.9-point average, made four straight shots and scored nine of the Gators’ first 11 points in the second half after going scoreless in the first half.
Brett Nelson finished with 12 points, and Justin Hamilton had 11 as Florida shot 50 percent (25-for-50), including 14 of 24 (58.3 percent) in the second half.
“We played physical, we played tough, we didn’t foul,” Donovan said. “That’s what you’re looking for when you’re playing our style.”