Scores

Final

(15) Sam Houston 55

(23-7, 17-3 Southland)

(2) Florida 85

(25-7, 12-4 SEC)

    9:30 PM ET, March 21, 2003

    Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida

    1 2 T
    #15SHSU 24 3155
    #2FLA 38 4785

    Gators end three-game skid by routing Bearkats

    TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The losing streak is over. Next, the Florida Gators will find out if they really are as good as they looked Friday night.

    Matt Bonner

    Sam Houston State's Jay Oliphant, right, guards Matt Bonner early in the first half.

    Sophomore David Lee scored a career-high 23 points to help the second-seeded Gators beat 15th-seeded Sam Houston State 85-55 in the opening round of the South Regional.

    Florida (25-7) was the only team to come into the NCAA Tournament with three straight losses. After watching his team dominate the Southland Conference champs, coach Billy Donovan stood by his claim that there was never any need to panic -- that all the games had been close, and his team was playing well.

    "I think this is a very good barometer," Donovan said. "Sam Houston State is very good. Maybe people thought this game was going to be lopsided, but this time of year, you can throw seedings out. Everyone is going against teams playing at a very high level."

    Still, Sunday's game will be more telling. The Gators go against Michigan State in a rematch of the 2000 title game, won by the Spartans. Michigan State advanced with a 79-64 victory over Colorado earlier in the night.

    "We're capable the next night of coming out and going 0-for-50, or going 50-for-50," Lee said. "Each game has its own little streaks. To me, I'm not concerned with how things went in the past. It's the next game."

    Playing in the heart of Gator Country -- just a two-hour drive from Gainesville -- Lee was the star. He twisted and turned through the middle in a 9-for-12 shooting night that proved his worth as a center despite his relatively slight, 6-foot-9, 240-pound frame.

    Dick Vitale: The Gators snapped a three-game losing streak by beating a clearly overmatched Sam Houston squad. Florida now moves on to face Michigan State in a rematch of the 2000 national championship game. More

    Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson both provided glimpses of the form they showed earlier in the season, when they were the best freshman duo in the country.

    Walsh had six points and six rebounds, including a 3-point prayer from 27 feet early in the first half with the shot clock running out. He also lobbed one in from 40 feet, but it didn't count -- it came a few seconds after a foul had been called.

    Roberson finished with 16 points and five 3-pointers. Next, the guard from Saginaw, Mich., will face the Spartans and Tom Izzo, the coach who recruited him for years, only to see him leave the state for Florida.

    "I respect Coach Izzo," Roberson said. "I respect the situation he's in. No matter what happens Sunday, I'm happy I'm at Florida."

    The Gators also got something of a bonus from senior Brett Nelson. Struggling mightily for the last two seasons, Nelson scored nine points on three 3-pointers. His classmate, Matt Bonner, played OK with a sore foot, and finished with seven points and eight rebounds.

    Those two and senior Justin Hamilton will get another shot at the team they played against as freshmen with the national championship on the line.

    "I look forward to playing them. I look forward to the challenge, but it doesn't mean anything more than that to me," Hamilton said.

    Sam Houston -- the school best known as Dan Rather's alma mater and as a neighbor to the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas -- was an entertaining team to watch.

    The Bearkats pressed, ran and shot 3s without conscience. Donald Cole led them with 15 points, and lanky center Eddy Fobbs had 10 -- making about as many dunks as he missed.

    They stayed within six for the first 15 minutes, but their biggest problem was that they went up against a team that likes to do what they do every bit as much, only the Gators do it better. Florida forced 16 turnovers, compared with 10 for Sam Houston. Florida made 13 3-pointers, compared with six for Sam Houston.

    "They hit a ton of 3s," Bearkats forward Felton Freeman said. "Like coach says, 'They live and die by the 3s.' Tonight, they lived."

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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    » Mar 21, 2003 @FLA 85, SHSU 55Recap