for this game

Florida grabs third straight SEC title, potential No. 1 seed

Mar 11, 2007 - 9:14 PM ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Joakim Noah and Florida are halfway toward repeating their two titles from last season.

Noah scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half as the sixth-ranked Gators used an early burst after halftime to post a 77-56 victory over Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

Capturing its third straight SEC tourney title with a ninth straight win in the event, Florida (29-5) potentially wrapped up a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. The Gators will be looking to follow up on their first national title from last year.

"When you start your season, you're always going to have team goals," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "Everybody focuses on the NCAA Tournament, it's the big thing. I don't want them to ever feel (this is) unimportant. They needed to enjoy today.

"Tomorrow will be soon enough. For me, it's not necessarily the bigger picture. It's not about getting here to Atlanta for the Final Four. It's about the next game. It's a process you want to go through and you want to enjoy the steps along the way."

A third seed as they made their run to the school's first national championship, the Gators are not completely caught up in having a top seed.

"It doesn't matter," said Noah, who displayed a cocky demeanor during last year's title run. "We knew what we were capable of doing. We're going to do whatever we need to do to get W's and rings."

Al Horford had 18 points and 12 rebounds and Taurean Green scored 10 points for the Gators, which held a 36-28 lead at intermission before using a 28-14 run to begin the second half and open a 64-42 advantage with 8:33 remaining.

"I feel like we came out the first five minutes of the second half strong," Horford said. "It's important for us to keep that intensity level."

Noah, the Most Outstanding Player of last year's Final Four, scored nine points during the burst. He made 8-of-15 shots and grabbed eight rebounds.

Arkansas was making its first appearance in the SEC title game since 2000, posting wins over South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State over the previous three days. But the Razorbacks (21-13) were sluggish throughout, shooting just 36 percent (23-of-64), including 3-of-24 3-pointers.

"We knew they played four games in a row," Noah said. "We kept pushing and kept pushing. We just wanted to run, make the bigs run down the floor and out run them."

In contrast, Florida shot 53 percent (29-of-55) with five 3-pointers and held a 41-34 advantage in rebounding.

"We faced a well-oiled machine," Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. "I'll be very surprised if they don't win it all. Every time you have a breakdown or make a mistake, they capitalize on you very well."

Arkansas also was handicapped by the loss of third-leading scorer Charles Thomas, who injured his left ankle less than 1 1/2 minutes into the game. The 6-8 junior had 18 points and 18 rebounds in Saturday's semifinals.

"(His absence) disrupts your rhythm, your chemistry," Heath said. "He (had) three years of experience."

With Thomas failing to score, reserve Michael Washington paced the Razorbacks with 17 points on 8-of-14 shooting. Sonny Weems added 15 points for Arkansas, which might have played its way into the NCAA Tournament.

    --- --- -----
    ARKANSAS 28 28 56
    FLORIDA (6) 36 41 77 FINAL

    Mar 11 3:00 PM


    Mar 11 1:55 PM