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Poole, DeClercq lift Florida over Auburn

Now that they've finally found their shooting touch, the Florida Gators find themselves near the top of the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division.

A team that went 19 games without scoring more than 80 points suddenly has broken the barrier three straight times, including Wednesday night's 92-81 win against Auburn.

Three Gators had career highs in scoring as the team stayed tied for second place, two games behind Kentucky. In a preseason poll, Florida was picked for last place in the Eastern Division.

"We're someplace in the standings where we aren't supposed to be, supposedly," said freshman center Andrew DeClercq of Clearwater. "But we're there just the same. We've won the games we're supposed to win."

For two months, Florida coach Lon Kruger bemoaned his team's lack of scoring punch. UF's offense hit a new low earlier this month with a 50-point effort against Louisiana State.

Since then, however, the Gators have averaged 88 points a game.

The 92 points Wednesday night were the most Florida has scored against an SEC team since the Dwayne Schintzius-era in the 1989-90 season.

Auburn, which is among the nation's top 10 in field-goal percentage, was even hotter than usual Wednesday, converting 59 percent of its shots.

But the Tigers also turned the ball over 18 times, and the Gators kept pace by shooting 54 percent from the field.

"We've played just about everybody now (in the SEC), and this Florida team is playing as well as anybody in the league right now," Auburn coach Tommy Joe Eagles said. "Lon told me before the game that his team can't play any better, and if they could, I really wouldn't want to play them."

DeClercq, Stacey Poole and Dan Cross have never played any better, at least statistically. Poole had career highs in both scoring (28) and rebounding (14).

"Stacey just had another outstanding ballgame," Kruger said. "He's doing a lot of other things besides scoring."

Cross also had a career-high 12 points, and DeClercq, despite playing only 14 minutes because of foul problems, had a career-high 16 points.

The Gators (13-9 overall, 6-5 SEC) never were really threatened by Auburn (11-11, 4-7). The Tigers never got closer than six points in the final 10 minutes.

Auburn started with a small lineup, featuring 6-6 Chris Brandt at center, and Florida took advantage by going inside to DeClercq. The 6-10 DeClercq matched his career-high of 14 points less than nine minutes into the game.

"The guards were doing a great job of getting the ball inside, and I was taking it up strong," DeClercq said.

Now, with five games left in the regular season, the Gators can begin whispering their hopes for a postseason bid. Florida is on the road for its next two games, at South Carolina and at Tennessee.

"The last few games have been a new season for us, but we have to stay focused and go one game at a time," Poole said. "If we do that, the postseason is a possibility."