Gators Chomp Tigers in SEC Opener

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida point guard Jai Lucas knows his height is a bit of a limitation. His speed, however, is no problem.
That's what he used at the end of the game to help the Gators beat visiting Auburn 72-56.

The 5-foot-11 Lucas zipped past defenders in the lane and shook another for a 3-pointer to score seven of his 16 points in the final 3:30 to give Florida (15-2, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) its ninth consecutive victory over Auburn (9-5, 0-2).

"When people are pressuring you, it's always easier to beat them off the dribble because it's hard to contain," Lucas said. "And I feel with my speed I can do that. That's one of the things I've been focusing on."

Florida led by as much as 12 points in the second half, but Auburn chipped away and trailed 63-56 with about four minutes remaining. That's when Lucas took over. He finished a drive in the middle of the lane with a turnaround jump shot just before the shot clock expired, shook a defender to hit a 3-pointer on Florida's next possession, and made another short jumper in the lane on the Gators' following trip down the court. That spurt put Florida ahead 70-56 with 1:36 remaining and helped the Gators open SEC play with consecutive victories for the eighth consecutive season.

"I just did what the team needed," Lucas said. "I wasn't trying to do anything spectacular. I was just trying to help us win the game."

But some of Lucas' shots were pretty impressive. Twice in the first half he hit off-balance bank shots seconds before the shot clock expired. That was the situation late in the game as well, but Lucas went into the heart of Auburn's defense and pulled up for high, arcing jumpers instead.

"Especially being small, one thing you have to work on a lot is getting the ball high above the rim and up the backboard so just in case you miss it somebody can come in and get a tip dunk or a rebound," said Lucas, who finished 7-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range. "It's something I just worked on my whole life."

Lucas' end-of-game spurt was part of a 11-0 run in the final 4:07. Auburn scored just two points in the final 5:16 on a pair of DeWayne Reed free throws. The Tigers went 0 for 3 from the field and committed two turnovers in that stretch.

"We hung in there," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I thought our guys kept their composure. We made some big plays."

Nick Calathes added 16 points and Marreese Speights had 14 points and eight rebounds for the Gators.

Quan Prowell led three Auburn players in double figures with 13. Lucas Hargrove had 11 and Frank Tolbert added 10. The Tigers out-rebounded the Gators 35-29 and were dominant on the glass in the first half, grabbing 11 offensive rebounds.

Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said the Tigers struggled with fatigue in the second half because of a short bench due to injuries and playing a Thursday night home game and then having a noon tipoff in Gainesville.

"We went through a stretch where we got a little tired and we just couldn't make shots," Lebo said.

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