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Florida eyes three-peat as SEC tournament champion

March 11th, 2007 10:12 am by Associated Press

ATLANTA - They stayed in school because there were more championships to be won. Now, Florida's juniors are one victory away from a three-peat at the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Corey Brewer scored 22 points, Lee Humphrey added 17 and the sixth-ranked Gators put on another dominating display to beat Mississippi 80-59 in the SEC semifinals Saturday.

Florida (28-5) jumped out to a quick 11-point lead and was never seriously challenged by the Rebels (20-12), who likely cost themselves a chance to slip into the NCAA field.

After winning the national championship last season, Gator stars Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah were projected as first-round NBA draft picks. Instead, they defied expectations by returning together for their junior season.

"Here's a group of kids that chose the University of Florida, one another, playing with each other, and happiness over all the materialistic things that are out there," coach Billy Donovan said. "To me, it's an unbelievable story. Personally, I don't think it's been told enough."

Florida has won its first two games in the tournament by an average of 19 points to reach its fourth straight SEC final. The Gators won the last two championships and have a chance to be the first team since Kentucky in 1997-99 to win three straight tournament titles.

Florida advanced to play Arkansas in today's championship game.

Ole Miss shot just 32 percent from the field (21-of-66). Clarence Sanders was the Rebels' lone player in double figures with 21 points.

Taurean Green added 14 points for Florida, which buried the Rebels by going 10-of-24 from beyond the 3-point arc. Humphrey was especially accurate, making 5-of-8 outside the stripe. Brewer went 3-of-7 from long range, which opened up the rest of his versatile game.

As usual, everyone chipped in for the Gators. Horford had nine points, 13 rebounds and two blocks. Noah grabbed 12 rebounds, scored eight points and swatted away three shots.

After blowing out Georgia in the quarterfinals with the first 17 points of the game, Florida got off to another quick start. Brewer and Green connected from 3-point range and Horford scored on the inside to make it 13-2 with the game barely five minutes old.

Ole Miss called a quick timeout and pulled itself together, making a game of it by late in the first half despite abysmal shooting. The Rebels whittled Florida's lead to 30-22 and had the ball with less than two minutes remaining, but the Gators needed no time at all to restore a comfortable margin.

Humphrey connected on his third 3-pointer of the half, Green made a couple of free throws and Walter Hodge burst to the basket for a layin after an Ole Miss turnover, sending Florida to the locker room with its biggest lead to that point, 37-22.

ATLANTA - Charles Thomas scored 18 points to lead Arkansas into the SEC championship game.

Sonny Weems also scored 18 points and Gary Ervin, a transfer from Mississippi State, added 15 points as Arkansas (21-12) continued to boost its NCAA chances.

"In my opinion, it's a no-brainer," Razorbacks coach Stan Heath said. "I think we've removed any ‘ifs' that we belong in that field."

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury agreed.

"Let's be realistic, no question I think the winner of this game was going to get in," Stansbury said.

One day after taking an emotional overtime win over Kentucky, Mississippi State (18-13) suffered a letdown. After leading 40-39 at halftime, the Bulldogs were outscored 42-32 in the second half.

With five straight wins, the Razorbacks' hot streak may have saved Heath's job. There were reports this week Arkansas would buy out Heath's contract if the team did not earn an NCAA tournament bid.

Ervin, who played his first two seasons at Mississippi State before transferring to Arkansas, was in the spotlight for the Razorbacks for the second straight day.

Mississippi State shot only 41.7 percent from the field. Ben Hansbrough led the Bulldogs with 12 points. Dietric Slater had 11 and Reginald Delk added 10.

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