GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Billy Donovan talked about passion and hunger.
They were essential to Florida’s march to its first NCAA basketball championship last season, and the coach reiterated that to his players after watching the Gators football team upset Ohio State to make the school the first to hold national titles in those sports at the same time.
“I really think what the football team did can be such a valuable lesson,” Donovan said Tuesday night after Taurean Green scored 17 points and Corey Brewer added 13 to lead No. 2 Florida to a 79-72 victory over Arkansas.
“I think this year’s football team was fighting for respect and recognition, as we were last year. … I mentioned to our guys here’s a perfect example of a team that maybe wasn’t even mentioned in the same breath with Ohio State. That’s the type of recognition and notoriety our basketball team has received this year. … It’s different for us than a year ago and we’ve got to keep that hunger and that passion.”
At halftime, the sellout crowd at the O’Connell Center welcomed the football team, which beat Ohio State 41-14 on Monday night in the BCS championship game. Some of the players addressed the fans and thanked the basketball team for inspiring them.
“Without knowing a lot about the X’s and O’s, I thought the most aggressive team won. The hungriest team won,” Donovan said of the BCS matchup. “That’s what happened last year for us. We were aggressive and hungry. We need to make sure we continue that.”
The Gators (15-2, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) built an early 12-point lead, then spent the rest of the night holding off the Razorbacks (12-4, 1-1), who briefly took the lead before faltering over the last 10 minutes.
Joakim Noah and Al Horford both scored 11 points for Florida, which has all five starters back from the team that won the school’s first basketball title last spring. The Gators have won eight straight since losing at Florida State on Dec. 3.
Darian Townes led Arkansas with 18 points, while Sonny Weems finished with 13.
Arkansas coach Stan Heath felt the Razorbacks played their best game of the season in routing Alabama 88-61 last Saturday and hoped his team’s quickness and size inside would help neutralize Florida’s frontcourt of Noah, Horford and Brewer.
With Noah and Horford riding the bench for much of the first half with two fouls, Florida squandered most of an early 12-point lead before settling for a 37-36 halftime lead.
Patrick Beverley’s 3-pointer gave Arkansas its only lead of the game, 54-53 with 10:30 remaining, however poor long-range shooting ultimately doomed the Razorbacks.
Arkansas misfired on 13 of 15 shots from behind the 3-point line and shot 42 percent overall. Meanwhile, Lee Humphrey’s third 3-pointer of the game gave Florida a nine-point lead with just over a minute remaining to end any chance of a comeback by the Razorbacks.
“They are only going to give you so many looks. If the shot is open you have to take the shot,” Heath said. “For a while, I thought we were going to make them, but they just weren’t falling.”
Gary Ervin had 11 points and nine assists for Arkansas, while Beverley, the Razorbacks’ leading scorer, had 10 points of 3-for-10 shooting.
Despite having a four-game winning streak stopped, Heath was encouraged about where Arkansas is headed.
“We made a great turnaround from Christmas to where we are now,” he said. “I think the two teams we just went up against are the two best teams in the conference, and we played well in those games.”