for this game

Gators practically perfect down stretch in win over Purdue

Mar 18, 2007 - 11:07 PM NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- Al Horford and Florida showed Purdue the poise of a champion.

Powered by Horford, the top-seeded Gators played virtually flawless basketball over the last seven minutes and surged to a 74-67 victory, moving into the regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Region.

Horford and Corey Brewer scored 17 points apiece to lead a balanced attack for the Gators (31-5), who shook off some early lackluster play with the same presence they displayed en route to last year's national championship.

"We are a flawed basketball team, like everybody else is flawed," Florida coach Billy Donovan said, ignoring his team's performance. "We are not a perfect team. ... The second half we adjusted pretty well to what was open and what we needed to take advantage of."

"Even when you make it tough for them, even when you play defense, they're still hard to stop because they're so talented and so skilled," Purdue's David Teague said. "We did everything we could to tie the game or take the lead, but they stepped up and made the plays."

The first defending champion in three years to reach the "Sweet 16," Florida's next foe will be fifth-seeded Butler on Thursday in St. Louis. It is trying to become the first repeat champion since Duke in 1991-92.

"It's a big deal," Horford said. "We are celebrating tonight and then getting refocused. We will get ready for Butler. We have to enjoy the moment."

After sputtering through the first 25 minutes, the Gators came alive as Taurean Green drained two 3-pointers and Horford threw in a hook for a 47-40 lead with 10:35 to go.

Ninth-seeded Purdue (22-12) immediately responded with nine straight points. Chris Kramer's driving layup capped the spurt and gave the Boilermakers a surprising 49-47 edge with 7:06 left.

From that point, the Gators played simply perfect basketball. They scored on their next 13 possessions - avoiding the turnovers that plagued them earlier - and drained 14-of-14 free throws.

Leading the way was Horford, a future NBA first-round pick whose interior game overwhelmed Purdue's defense. He made a hook before Brewer sank two foul shots that gave Florida a 62-56 edge with 2:49 remaining.

"It was important for us to start working inside-out," Horford said. "Our guards did a good job getting us the ball inside. Then we were just creating after that. If they were doubling, we were kicking it out. Or if they didn't double, then we had to go score."

On Florida's next two possessions, Horford made a spinning bank shot and a follow dunk for a 66-59 bulge with 58 seconds left. Green and Brewer each made 4-of-4 free throws in the final minute.

"Tonight we were very focused and we stepped up and made them," Brewer said.

"We played about as good a defense (as) we could," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "Those plays weren't handed to them. They made tough shots. And they made plays over us. So you've got to give them credit."

The stretch run was in stark contrast to Florida's early play, which was marked by poor shooting and sloppiness that allowed Purdue to believe it had a chance for the upset. The Gators committed all 15 of their turnovers in the first 30 minutes.

Green scored 14 points for the Gators, who shot 50 percent (21-of-42) from the field, including a blistering 65 percent (13-of-20) in the second half. They have won six straight games.

Carl Landry scored 18 points and Kramer and Teague added 14 apiece for Purdue, which held a seven-point lead in the first half but hurt itself with poor free-throw shooting. The Boilermakers were just 6-of-13 from the line and got there just five times in the second half.

"It was one of our best efforts of the year, but I don't think it was special," Painter said. "If it had been special, we'd be at the winners' press conference."

A jumper by Landry gave Purdue a 25-18 lead with just under nine minutes to go in the first half. However, Florida rallied for a 29-29 tie before Landry sank another jumper for a 31-29 halftime lead.