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Gators blast LSU in SEC tournament opener

The SportsXchange

NASHVILLE -- One play pretty much summed No. 11 Florida's 80-58 SEC tournament quarterfinal blowout of LSU Friday afternoon in Bridgestone Arena.

An early second half offensive possession saw the high-energy Gators transform into a blur, passing and cutting for almost the length of the 35-second shot clock. The ball ended up in the hands of guard Mike Rosario, who immediately drained one of the Gators' 11 3-pointers as on the day to push the lead past 20 points.

The Gators (25-6), the SEC's regular season champion for the fifth time under Billy Donovan, did little wrong from start to finish in advancing to Saturday's first semifinal against the Tennessee-Alabama winner.

"Our guys came out focused, ready to play," Donovan said. "We moved, we passed the ball, we got in the flow."

All-SEC first-team forward Erik Murphy lit Florida's flame early, scoring 15 of his career-high 27 points in the first half when the Gators took a 43-28 lead. He also collected a career-best 12 rebounds.

"Coach (Donovan) had stressed all week in practice to get good reps, and I felt I got good reps," Murphy said. "The shots just fell today and it felt good."

Considering Florida entered the league tourney 3-3 in its last six games, and LSU was 4-2 in its last six, the Tigers (19-12) had a glimmer of hope they could hang with the Gators. At the very least, LSU didn't want to lose to Florida by 22 points again, the Tigers' worst previous defeat margin this season suffered when the teams met on Jan. 12.

Only one LSU's guards, senior Charles Carmouche, played reasonably well on offense. He scored a team-best 14 points, but the Tigers didn't have enough weapons.

"Anytime you play a team as good as Florida, you have to play with a sense of urgency," LSU coach Johnny Jones said. "Florida's one of the best defensive teams in the country. They rotate perfectly and always get in help position."

Florida outshot LSU from the field 50.9 percent to 33.3 percent and crushed the Tigers in rebounding, 42-26.

Four of Florida's starters were voted first team or second team All-SEC by league coaches earlier this week, but it was a matter of just talent discrepancy. The Gators were motivated after losing their last regular season game to Kentucky last weekend.

"We had games this season in which we had big leads and loss," said Gators' guard Scottie Wilbekin, who lit up LSU for 16 points including 4-of-5 threes. "Our focus in this game was keeping focus and extending the lead."

Florida made it an offensive point from the opening tip vs. the Tigers to look inside first. The Gators scored their first four baskets in the paint, with center Patric Young getting a jumpstart on a 10-point, 6-rebound performance.

The sudden inside infusion gave Florida was more space on the perimeter and the Gators did what they do best - spread the floor and rain three-pointers from all angles.

Florida was 6-of-9 in threes in the opening half, punctuated by Michael Frazier II swishing a 30-foot three at the halftime buzzer for a 43-28 lead.

Murphy, the Gators' first-team All-SEC forward, had a near double-double in the first half. He hit 3-of-3 threes and screamed "Woooo" when his third trey found the mark.

In the second half, Murphy did most of his damage inside, patiently working with his back to the basket.

"He's just a great versatile player," Carmouche said of Murphy. "If you put a big defender on him, he'll take him outside and shoot threes. If you put a smaller guy on him, he'll take him to the block."

LSU played well in the opening five minutes. But when O'Bryant got in foul trouble -- his low post presence had demanded a double-team that gave Carmouche space to shoot -- the Tigers went into a tailspin.

"It's very tough to get going when you have to sit so much," said O'Bryant, an All-SEC first-team selection who had just eight points and three rebounds in a mere 25 minutes.
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