Oregon Falls Short In Its Bid For A Final Four Spot

March 25, 2007

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Lee Humphrey made seven 3-pointers and finished with 23 points, and Taurean Green added 21 to lead the Florida Gators to an 85-77 victory over third-seeded Oregon in the Midwest Regional final Sunday afternoon. It was their 16th straight postseason victory, a stretch that includes one national championship and two Southeastern Conference titles.

'It's so great because we were under a microscope,' said Noah, who finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds. 'There was so much hate. But we know that what matters is what's going on here.'

Next stop for the top-seeded Gators: Atlanta, where they'll play UCLA in the national semifinals in a rematch of last year's championship Game.

Florida won that one in a rout, 73-57, for its first national championship - and the first half of what would turn out to be the Gator Slam. When Florida beat Ohio State for the national football title in January, the Gators became the first school to be champs in both sports at the same time.

Now Florida (33-5) would like to win both crowns in the same calendar year. And make a little history as the first team since Duke in 1991-92 to win back-to-back basketball titles - and the first ever to do it with the same five starters.

Oregon was trying to get to the Final Four for the first time since winning it all in 1939, the first year of the NCAA tournament. But the Ducks (29-8) were done in by foul trouble the entire game and Tajuan Porter going cold.

Porter, the 5-foot-6 guard who went off for eight 3s and 33 points in Friday night's regional semifinal, didn't make his first field goal until there were 40 seconds left in the game. He finished with 10 points but was just 2-of-12 from the field.

Aaron Brooks led Oregon with 27 points, and Malik Hairston added 18 and five rebounds before fouling out with 3:54 to play.

The Gators have yet to play their best - or even a consistent - game in the NCAA tournament. They've had to come from behind in each game, and have yet to get a dominant performance from both their big guys and guards at the same time.

But half a Gator team is better than most wholes. After Al Horford carried the Gators in the semifinal, it was Humphrey and Green doing the work Sunday.

Brooks made a 3-pointer and followed with a layup to tie the game at 45 with 17:06 to play. But Green made a 3, then scored on a driving layup of his own that brought the Florida bench to its feet and gave the Gators a 50-45 lead with 16:18 to play.

After a timeout, Humphrey hit a 3 to make it 53-47 with 15:35 to play, and Oregon never got closer than four rest of the way. Humphrey's seven 3s gave him 280 for his career, a Florida record, and he's made a habit of coming up big when the Gators need him most. He's made at least two 3s in each of his last 10 postseason games, when he was 37-of-82 from behind the arc.

The Gators being the Gators, though, they had to make it interesting.

Florida didn't make a field goal in the last 8:14 and missed seven free throws in the last two minutes, allowing Oregon to whittle a nine-point deficit down to four.

Porter's second 3 - his second basket of the game - made it 81-77 with 17.2 seconds left, but Florida put it away as Green went 3-of-4 from the line and Porter was called for traveling with nine seconds left.

As the final seconds ticked down, the celebration was on.

Noah screamed, 'Keep hating!' and 'We win, we eat!' as the Florida fans roared with approval. The MVP of last year's Final Four sprinted across the court, grabbed coach Billy Donovan and hefted him in the air, shaking him. After the Gators accepted yet another trophy, they huddled together on the podium and rocked back and forth, whooping and hollering.

Then they climbed the ladders to cut down the nets - something they've gotten quite good at over the last two seasons. But make no mistake, a regional title isn't why Noah, Horford and Corey Brewer - all certain to have been lottery picks with Noah the likely No. 1 - put their NBA millions on hold last spring.

They want another title, and anything less will be a bitter disappointment.

Florida's slow starts in the NCAA tournament are getting to be a habit, and this game was no different. Just as Purdue and Butler did, the Ducks dictated the tempo of the game early, getting their guards free for easy shots and even dumping the ball inside to Hairston. They flustered Florida just as much on the other end, and the Gators had nine turnovers before the game was even 10 minutes old.

But after that ninth turnover, Florida settled in. Humphrey hit a 3-pointer that sparked a 20-9 run. Over the next 6 1/2 minutes, the Gators didn't have a single turnover and turned a five-point deficit into a 33-27 lead.

Humphrey capped the spurt with another 3. If ever a basket could be costly, though, this one was because it snapped a string in the net and brought Florida's momentum to a sudden halt.

It took almost 10 minutes to fix the net, and the teams could do nothing but wait. The Gators got so restless at one point they came onto the floor, even though a maintenance worker was still on the ladder working on the net.

When the break finally ended, Brooks scored nine straight points and Bryce Taylor dunked to pull Oregon within 40-38 at the break.

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