GAINESVILLE — The good news for Florida is the Gators opened SEC play with a win. The bad news was that their performance exposed serious weaknesses and left coach Billy Donovan in a less than complimentary mood.
Led by three players scoring in double figures, including 19 points from sophomore guard Nick Calathes, Florida defeated Mississippi 78-68 in front of 11,753 at the O'Connell Center on Saturday night, including a cameo first-half appearance by UF quarterback Tim Tebow and coach Urban Meyer.
The Gators (14-2 overall) led 53-39 at halftime, going on a 12-0 run and shooting 62.1 percent (53.3 percent on 3-pointers). But Donovan had concerns that became reality in the second half.
The Rebels outrebounded Florida 46-22, 18-4 offensively. It was the most rebounds the Gators have given up all season, and its 22 is their season low.
"What really got exposed is the thing that I've always been worried about with our team, is, will be physically compete up front and create a level of confrontation in the paint," Donovan said. "I don't know the last time, since I've been here, we've been outrebounded by 24 rebounds."
The rebounding struggles — and a shooting drought midway through the second half — allowed Ole Miss (9-6, 0-1 SEC) to get back into the game. Trailing 59-43, Mississippi went on a 15-5 run. The Gators went without a field goal for 8½ minutes during that span.
"We didn't hit as many shots," sophomore Chandler Parsons said. "We have to come out with the same passion and fire. We had a big lead in the second half, and any team in the SEC on any night can cut it down and make it a game, just like they did. I think we can grow from this and get better."
Donovan isn't so sure.
"I think it's a mentality that you have," he said. "I don't know if you can instill that type of mentality. … Those guys can talk all they want about, 'We know, we didn't rebound,' but you know what, there also comes a time where you have to physically compete and do it."
The game marked the return of former Gator David Huertas, who was a freshman guard on the 2006 national championship team but transferred after that season. Huertas scored 16, shooting 4-of-15 from the field.
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.