7:00 PM ET, February 17, 2003
Stephen C. O'Connell Center, Gainesville, Florida
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida's Matt Bonner matched the entire New Orleans team score for score over the first 30 minutes Monday, finishing with 24 points to lift the No. 7 Gators to a 77-48 victory.Bonner, a senior, fell seven points shy of his career high, but still had nothing to complain about. Florida (21-4) matched a program record with its 18th straight home win in this, a rare midseason nonconference matchup. Coached by longtime former Gators assistant Monte Towe, the Privateers (13-11) were outmatched from the start. They fell behind 20-3 after 7 minutes and about the only drama after that was whether Bonner could outscore them on his own. It looked possible well into the second half. The redheaded New Hampshire forward was ahead of the Privateers 22-19 at halftime and when he hit a 14-foot jumper with 15 minutes left in the game, he drew even at 24. Three minutes later, the Gators led 58-27 and Bonner had an open 3-pointer to try to tie things again. But it clanged high off the rim, and two minutes later, coach Billy Donovan gave him the rest of the night off. Bonner's wasn't the only individual drama going on in an otherwise predictable game. Hector Romero of New Orleans scored 15 points to hit double digits for the 52nd time in his 52-game college career. But it was no easy task. After a dunk on the opening possession, he was held to one free throw the rest of the first half. He didn't reach 10 points until he flipped an underhanded shot in with 7:30 left. He finished 3-for-11 from the floor and grabbed eight rebounds. It was a drastic turnaround from last year's meeting with the Gators, when he was the best player on the floor with 29 points and 19 boards. There were a few other good individual stories to watch. Brett Nelson, knocked out of his starting role by freshman Anthony Roberson, made two straight 3-pointers early in the second half to show a glimmer of hope for his struggling game. Florida's Matt Walsh made a 65-foot heave that sent the crowd into a frenzy, but it came just after the halftime buzzer. The freshman forward made two 3-pointers that did count and finished with 12 points. New Orleans guard Johnell Smith -- who once scored 86 points in a game for Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville -- went 6-for-7 for 14 points. Roberson finished 1-for-9 and has missed 25 of 30 shots in the last three games. Florida rebounded from a 66-59 loss at Tennessee last weekend, and now gets ready to return to Southeastern Conference play, Saturday at Vanderbilt. New Orleans, of the Sun Belt Conference, fell to 0-10 on the road this season.