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Florida 81, Auburn 63
Posted: Thursday March 07, 2002 11:43 PM
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ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Brett Nelson scored 23 points and Udonis Haslem added 22 and 10 rebounds as 12th-ranked Florida overcame a slow start to post an 81-63 victory over Auburn in the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Nelson's 3-pointer capped an 18-4 run that gave the Gators (22-7) a 22-15 lead with 8:35 left in the first half. With Florida electing not to go into its patented pressing game at the start, Auburn scored the game's first seven points and built an 11-2 lead in the opening four minutes.

Nelson made 6-of-11 3-pointers and was 8-of-16 overall from the field. Haslem, who recorded his 11th double-double of the season, did not miss a shot. He was 7-of-7 from the field and 8-of-8 from the line.

"We didn't play particularly well in the first half," Nelson said. "We were kind of flat. But in the second half, we came back, got some shots down inside and changed the pace of the game." Florida has won five straight and eight of its last nine SEC first-round games. The Gators have reached the title game three times but never have won it.

The Tigers (12-16) closed to 32-30 at halftime, but Florida reeled off the first 10 points of the second half to take control. Auburn got no closer than eight points thereafter and the Gators led by as many as 20.

"We certainly didn't play our style of play in the 40 minutes of play tonight," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I told the team that you can't win four games without winning the first one." Marquis Daniels scored a season-high 23 points and Adam Harrington contributed 12 for the shorthanded Tigers, who played without Kyle Davis, the SEC's leader in blocked shots. Davis broke his wrist in Saturday's regular-season finale against Louisiana State.

Auburn finished the season as the SEC's only losing team, dropping 11 of its last 14 contests.

"The biggest thing that hurt us was the boards," Tigers coach Cliff Ellis said. "I thought the second shots they got were the difference in them expanding the lead." Florida, which lost three of its final five regular-season games, will take on Mississippi State in Friday's quarterfinals.

"Mississippi State has more depth than we do," Donovan said. "I'm certainly looking for Mississippi State to come out and attack us tomorrow. But I think by not pressing in tonight's game, then we should have a lot of energy tomorrow." The Gators shot just 43 percent (13-of-30) in the first half but warmed up to 55 percent (16-of-29) in the second half, when they scored 49 points.

Florida held a 38-26 edge on the boards and converted 16 turnovers into 21 points. Auburn cashed 11 Florida miscues into just nine points.

"We wanted them to score against the half-court defense," Donovan said. "We knew if we got the lead up to eight or 10, they would have to open it up. And that is what happened in the second half." "We were undersized," Daniels added. "We were trying to play scrappy defense. We just had to get a little better on the rebound end." .

 


 
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