March 16, 2007
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -The Florida Gators waited all season for the NCAA tournament. They waited an extra 20 minutes to show up once it started.
The top-seeded Gators responded from a lackluster first half with the best half in school history and routed Jackson State 112-69 in the opening round Friday night.
Corey Brewer led the defending national champions with 21 points, but it was another balanced effort from the team that returned all five starters from last season.
Joakim Noah had 17 points and 12 rebounds, Al Horford added 15 points and 16 boards, and Lee Humphrey sparked a huge run with four 3-pointers in the first 5 minutes of the second half.
Chris Richard came off the bench to finish with a career-high 17 points, and Taurean Green had a career-high 12 assists for Florida (30-5), which will play Purdue (22-11) on Sunday.
The Gators were clearly bigger, faster and more talented than the Tigers (21-14). However, they didn't show it until after halftime.
But they really put on a show to start the second half - much like they did last year in the Final Four against George Mason and UCLA - and finished with a school-record 71 points after the break. They also ended with a 62-19 rebounding advantage.
Trey Johnson, the nation's second-leading scorer, finished with 25 points on 8-of-21 shooting for Jackson State. Grant Maxey and Julius Young added 12 apiece.
Humphrey got things started for Florida in the second half with a 3-pointer, Noah followed with a layup, then Brewer hit from behind the arc.
Jackson State called timeout in hopes of squashing Florida's momentum, but it didn't work. Humphrey drained another 3, Brewer sank a free throw and Noah's putback capped a 17-6 spurt.
The Gators weren't done, either.
Humphrey hit another 3-pointer - and the beatdown was on.
Florida made 14 of its first 17 shots in the second half and manhandled the Tigers the rest of the way, looking very much like a team capable of becoming the first to repeat as national champions since Duke in 1992.
It was hardly the same story in the opening half, which was wild and maybe a little scary for the Gators.
Florida trailed by five early in the game and had plenty go wrong. The entire arena seemed to be rooting against them. Noah turned his right ankle during a layup attempt, then squirmed around in pain before walking it off - surely causing coach Billy Donovan a few anxious moments. And the Gators struggled to make baskets.
Green and Humphrey were a combined 0-for-10 from the floor in the first 20 minutes. They missed nine 3-pointers, most of them wide open.
The big men picked up the slack - not surprising since Jackson State's tallest starter was 3 inches shorter than Horford and 4 inches shorter than Noah.
Horford had nine points and 12 rebounds in the half, Noah added nine points and seven boards, and Chris Richard came off the bench to chip in 10 points and five rebounds.
Florida finished the half with a 34-14 rebounding advantage, but still only had a 41-35 lead.
Jackson State used a full-court press to force the Gators into 10 turnovers and some ill-advised shots. Florida settled down after the break and made the press moot by making just about everything.
Not surprisingly, it started with Humphrey. The soft-spoken country boy from Tennessee did the same thing in the tournament last season and finished the six games 22-of-48 from behind the arc.
He made 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to start the second half in the semifinal game against George Mason, and did the same thing in the championship game against UCLA.
He turned double-digit leads into routs. He pretty much did the same thing Friday, helping Florida extend the record of top seeds to 92-0 in the first round since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.