ATLANTA -- The Florida Gators happily ascended the ladder, a
pair of scissors in hand, to snip away at the nylon. They're not
about to pass up the chance to celebrate, even though they would
much rather be cutting down the nets at the Georgia Dome three
weeks from now.
Sending an emphatic message to those who thought they looked
vulnerable at the end of the regular season, the No. 6 Gators
finished off three routs in three days with a 77-56 blowout of
Arkansas in the SEC championship game Sunday.
Florida (29-5) is certainly on the sort of roll that could bring
them back to Atlanta for the Final Four. The Gators received the
top seed in the Midwest Regional and will play Jackson State on
Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"Six more wins!" a Florida fan yelled at Joakim Noah as he
strolled off the court, orange-and-blue beads dangling from his
"I'm still hungry for more," Noah screamed back. "I'm never
Which might just be Florida's secret. While the Gators captured
their first national championship a year ago, they're still playing
with the passion, desire and pure joy of a team that wants more.
"We're not defending our championship," Florida's
Chris Richard said. "We won that one [last year]. Nobody can take that
one away. We just want to win to win another one."
It was another devastating team effort by Florida, which lost
three of its last five regular-season games but showed no
weaknesses at the Georgia Dome. The Gators ripped through their
opponents with an average winning margin of 19.7 points.
"It's March," Joakim said. "This is our time of year."
No one at the SEC tournament would dispute that.
Arkansas, which was playing in the title game for the first time
since 2000, stayed close for a while -- which was more than
Florida's other two opponents, Georgia and Mississippi, could say.
But the Razorbacks (21-13) never really had a chance.
Florida had too much of, well, everything.
Up front, tournament MVP Al Horford scored 18 points and grabbed
12 rebounds, while Noah had 17 points, eight rebounds and four
assists. On the perimeter, Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey each made
a couple of 3-pointers, even though Arkansas focused on stopping
the guards. The swingman, Corey Brewer, chipped in with 9 points,
five rebounds and three assists. Richard and Walter Hodge combined
for 17 points off the bench.
Arkansas' hopes of pulling off the upset essentially ended when
junior forward Charles Thomas, coming off an 18-point, 18-rebound
performance in the semifinals, injured his left ankle during a
pileup less than 90 seconds into the game.
He didn't return, watching the rest of the game from the bench,
his ailing ankle covered in ice.
Arkansas received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The
Razorbacks, the No. 12 seed in the East Regional, will play
fifth-seeded Southern California in the first round.
There were reports that Arkansas already was preparing a buyout
of Heath's contract, but an NCAA bid could change those plans.
Florida got off to a 17-0 lead over Georgia in the quarterfinals
and jumped out 13-2 on Ole Miss in the semis. Arkansas was more
competitive, keeping the margin in single digits throughout the
But the Gators started to pull away just before halftime. Hodge
made a couple of free throws, Arkansas freshman Patrick Beverley
missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer and Florida trotted off to the
locker room with a 36-28 lead, its biggest of the period.
The game turned into a blowout after the break. The 6-foot-11
Noah put the finishing touches on another stellar performance when
he dribbled down court on a fast break and flipped in a shot
despite being bumped by Gary Ervin. Noah swaggered off toward the
Florida pep band wagging his right finger, then completed the
three-point play for a 62-42 lead.
Florida did its best work at the defensive end, limiting three
opponents to a cumulative 33.7 percent shooting. Arkansas fared the
best, even though the Razorbacks connected on just 23-of-64 (35.9
percent), including 3-of-24 from beyond the arc.
Michael Washington led the Razorbacks with 17.
With just over a minute remaining, Florida coach Billy Donovan
cleared his bench, allowing the starters to come off to a standing
"SEC! SEC! SEC!" the Florida fans chanted.
Noah, Horford and Brewer really deserved the applause, passing
up a chance to be NBA first-rounders because they wanted to go for
back-to-back national titles.
"One more year! One more year!" the crowd chanted hopefully.
The selfless juniors already added a couple of championships to
their resumes, sweeping the SEC's regular-season and tournament
titles with the greatest of ease. Now, they'll go for the
championship they really came back for.
They'd love to cut down the nets one more time.