7:00 PM ET, March 3, 2004
Stephen C. O'Connell Center, Gainesville, Florida
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- During warmups, Florida players wore T-shirts that read "We all we got." Right now, it looks like plenty.Matt Walsh made a game-tying 3-pointer, then hit seven free throws down the stretch Wednesday night to lift Florida to its fourth straight win, 63-55 over Georgia.Walsh led the Gators (18-8, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) with 22 points, a sweet answer to a troubling night in Athens two weeks ago for both himself and his team. Georgia fans heckled Walsh relentlessly during Florida's 76-62 loss, and the night got even worse when Georgia fans spilled onto the court to harass him some more after the game.Things seemed to deteriorate further the next day when swingman Christian Drejer suddenly quit to play pro ball in Spain. Turns out, the Gators haven't lost since, and the T-shirts, the mantra and the us-against-the-world attitude have become a big part of their season."When you lose a teammate out of nowhere, it makes you appreciate the guys you have around you," Walsh said. "That night in Athens, we started saying it. It's our new team motto. We really appreciate each other now."Suddenly, a team on the bubble is essentially a shoo-in for its sixth straight NCAA trip. The Gators are guaranteed a winning conference record, and they maintained a one-game lead for second place in the SEC East; the second-place team receives a first-round bye in next week's SEC tournament.Meanwhile, the Bulldogs (14-12, 6-9) lost their second straight after three consecutive wins put them in NCAA contention.Georgia, on a roller-coaster ride of a season, closed its SEC road schedule at 1-7. The only win: a 65-57 victory at Kentucky, part of a season sweep of the ninth-ranked Wildcats. The Bulldogs close the regular season Saturday at home against Vanderbilt."We thought we'd be in it if we could win both games this week," Bulldogs coach Dennis Felton said. "Now, that's out of the question. If we can beat Vanderbilt, then we'll put ourselves in the conversation."Led by 17 points from Chris Daniels, Georgia briefly looked like it could beat the Gators again. Rashad Wright hit two 3-pointers and Damien Wilkins (12 points) dunked twice to lead a 10-2 run that gave Georgia a 52-48 lead with 5 minutes left.Florida cut the deficit to three, then Walsh took over. His 3-pointer with 4:09 left tied the game at 52. On the next possession, he made two free throws to put the Gators up for good. Walsh went 7-for-8 from the line down the stretch.Georgia had chances through it all, but didn't make a field goal over the last 3:07. It was pretty ugly. Wilkins bricked one off the backboard that led to a shot clock violation. Daniels threw the ball away. Daniels came back with another ugly shot -- a 3-pointer that bounced hard off the glass without touching rim. Levi Stukes also missed a 3 during the cold spell."We had some tremendous looks, and we just couldn't convert the shots," Felton said.Walsh, meanwhile, kept hitting free throws, and wound up with three more points than Anthony Roberson, who opened the game with a four-point play and more than avenged a 1-for-11 shooting night the last time he faced Georgia."He's a competitor," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I knew in the first half, he was going to go completely off. I knew they did a great job on him the first time, but I also knew he was going to come out completely focused and ready to compete."Donovan said the entire team has been more focused since Drejer left."Christian is a very good player," he said. "But for whatever reason, we didn't play as well" with him.
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