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Southern Utah gives No. 18 Florida a scare

Southern Utah gives No. 18 Florida a scare

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Good teams can overcome poor shooting by playing strong defense. That's a lesson Florida's players never seemed to learn last season.

The Gators know that now and it showed Thursday night. Despite one of the worst 3-point shooting performances in school history, the 18th-ranked Gators beat Southern Utah 64-50 at the O'Connell Center.

Florida went 1-for-16 on 3s but shook that off by forcing 21 turnovers and holding the Thunderbirds to 31 percent shooting from 3-point range (5-for-16).

"Last year when we would have had a shooting night like that, we wouldn't have even attempted to play defense," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I was much, much more pleased in this game with the way we won than beating Bradley or beating Toledo by 20-plus points because this forced us to grow in a different way than those other two games did."

Florida (3-0) missed its first 15 attempts from 3-point range, but Dan Werner knocked down No. 16 with 23 seconds remaining to extend the Gators' school-record streak of consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer to 546.

The last time the Gators failed to make a 3 was Jan. 11, 1992, against Kentucky. Florida made 14 of 32 tries from beyond the arc in its last game, an 81-58 victory over Bradley on Sunday.

"I didn't think we'd made one, but I wasn't positive," said Werner, who scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds. "I thought it was only one or two we might have made, but I didn't know for sure.

"Good thing I made it, huh?"

Werner went 1-for-6 from 3-point range. Calathes was 0-for-5, Erving Walker 0-for-3 and Walter Hodge 0-for-2. Florida shot 0-for-8 from 3-point range in the first half.

"We make 14 3s in our last game and we could not throw the ball in the ocean tonight," Donovan said. "We must have had, of our 16 3s, 10 of them hit the back of the rim. You talk about just our guys being a little bit shorter on their shot (and) it probably could have been a game where we made 12 or 13 3s."

What the Gators did do was hound Southern Utah (1-1) with their press. Florida forced eight first-half turnovers and then applied more pressure to begin the second half. The Thunderbirds committed six turnovers in the first 3:46, allowing Florida to extend its lead to 42-27.

The Gators increased their lead to as many as 17 points. The Thunderbirds cut it to 10 five times in the final nine minutes, but turnovers kept them from trimming it to single digits.

"Their defense got enough turnovers -- that is what they do well -- and we made mistakes in their press," Southern Utah coach Roger Reid said. "That basically won them the game."

Davis Baker led Southern Utah with 23 points and eight rebounds. He scored 21 in the second half.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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