Champs Prevail

PURDUESPORTSDOTCOM Chris Kramer tries to make a move against Florida's Joakim Noah. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
PURDUESPORTSDOTCOM
Chris Kramer tries to make a move against Florida's Joakim Noah. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
PURDUESPORTSDOTCOM

March 18, 2007

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Florida's tournament experience paid off against plucky Purdue.

Al Horford and Corey Brewer each scored 17 points and the defending national champions withstood a game effort by the Boilermakers 74-67 on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Nonth-seeded Purdue played just about how it wanted against the Gators - slowing down the tempo, rebounding with a smaller lineup and keeping the game close much of the way.

But the top-seeded Gators never panicked and made several clutch shots down the stretch to advance to the round of 16.

Horford had three big buckets in the final minutes, and Brewer hit a spinning jumper and then made six consecutive free throws to seal Florida's 14th consecutive postseason win.

The Gators (31-5) advanced to play fifth-seeded Butler in the Midwest Regional semifinals Friday in St. Louis.

Carl Landry led Purdue (22-12) with 18 points and 10 rebounds. David Teague and Chris Kramer added 14 each.

"They just made big plays," Teague said. "They capitalized on a couple of turnovers and a couple of miscues ... and that is what champions do: they step up and make plays down the stretch.

"That was the difference in the ball game."

Florida trailed by five points in the first half and was down at halftime for the first time in nearly three weeks.

But the Gators slowly started to impose their will on the undersized Boilermakers. It started with the 6-foot-10 Horford, who backed down the 6-7 Landry all game. Horford's post presence also opened several outside shots.

Florida missed most of them in the first half - the Gators were 2-of-10 from behind the arc - but Taurean Green hit consecutive 3s to put the team ahead 43-38 with 12:35 remaining.

Landry came up big for Purdue, helping keep the Boilermakers close.

But Lee Humphrey had another 3-pointer with about 6 minutes to play that put the Gators up by five.

Horford and Brewer did the rest.

Horford had three low-post baskets in the final 3 minutes and finished 7-of-9 from the floor. He added nine rebounds.

Brewer was 8-for-8 from the free throw line and had eight rebounds. Joakim Noah had nine points and nine boards.

Green and Humphrey were off most of the game. They finished a combined 5-for-15 shooting and 4-of-14 from 3-point range.

But the Gators overcame the shooting woes and kept alive hopes of becoming the first team since Duke in 1992 to repeat as national champions.

Landry had two costly turnovers down the stretch. The Gators made them hurt, with Brewer drawing a foul following the first and Horford dunking after the second.

Horford stared at the Purdue fans after his dunk and pounded his chest. Noah was on the other side of the floor riling up the Florida section that include the team's three famous fathers - former tennis star Yannick Noah, former NBA player Tito Horford and former UNLV star and college coach Sidney Green.

The Boilermakers led 31-29 at the break. They shot 50 percent from the floor, had just five turnovers and controlled the tempo and kept Florida from running and getting easy baskets in transition.

Horford and Noah dominated Jackson State in the opening round, helping the Gators set an NCAA record with a plus-43 rebounding advantage.

They weren't nearly as effective against the aggressive Boilermakers. Of course, Noah also sat out the final 5 minutes with two fouls.

The Gators led briefly at the start, but Kramer scored seven points on three consecutive possessions to put Purdue ahead. Kramer, who made a shot from his knees in the opening round against Arizona, hit a pull-up jumper in the lane, a 3-pointer and another jumper.

Purdue led by as many as seven points in the opening half, up 25-18 following Landry's bucket down low.

The Gators shot 36 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes - showing the same problems that plagued them in the first half against Jackson State in the opening round.

The Gators easily righted themselves in the first round and went on to a rout. Purdue wouldn't go away quite so easily, but Florida still found a way.