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Gators roll by USC

Murriel Page is Florida's sparkplug, the chest-banging, hyperactive forward/center who usually can be found jumping up and down _ even during a break in the action when there is nothing to rebound.

Page always can be counted on to bring the crowd to its feet, but she did more than that Monday night.

She also brought Southern Cal to its knees.

Page scored 35 points and grabbed 16 rebounds as the seventh-ranked and third-seeded Gators rolled to a 92-78 victory and their first Sweet 16 berth. Florida (23-8) will play fifth-ranked Louisiana Tech (31-3) in the Mideast regional semifinal Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind.

The Gators came up short in second-round appearances in the NCAA tournament in 1993 and 1995 _ both losses to Virginia.

Florida was hot from the field, shooting 55.6 percent, but no one was as hot as Page.

Page made 14 of her 18 shots (78 percent), and her 35 points was a Mideast Regional record for the second round. It was the 37th double-double of her career and her 17th this season.

Even with the game in hand in the second half, Page didn't slow down. Instead, she went on an 8-0 run.

"Things were falling for me," said Page, who hugged a number of Trojans players before embarking on a victory lap with her teammates. "I just didn't turn down any shots and I kept working hard."

The Trojans, led by second-team All-America forward Tina Thompson, were the biggest team the Gators faced all season. But Page, the Southeastern Conference's leading rebounder, and first-team All-American DeLisha Milton shrugged off USC's height advantage.

The anticipated matchup between Milton and 6-foot-3 Thompson fizzled because Milton never gave Thompson a chance to catch her breath. Milton guarded her fiercely, and Thompson could do little to spark her teammates, especially in the first half, when she had more turnovers (3) than points (2).

"Our philosophy was to double up everything in the paint, whether it was Thompson or a guard," Florida coach Carol Ross said. "The paint was Gator territory, and we didn't want anyone in there.

"DeLisha probably played as much like an All-American on the defensive end as anyone that's ever played. And Murriel played like an offensive All-American."

Milton (10 points, three rebounds) was below her usual offensive production for the third straight game. But she did her job, which was to shut down Thompson.

"I was doing my best to not let her get the ball, period," Milton said. "Because she couldn't get in a flow, that kind of flustered her some."

Thompson admitted as much.

"I was never, ever terrified of a double team, but the one tonight was tenacious, and it was very effective," said Thompson, who finished with 13 points and nine turnovers.

USC didn't score a basket until more than six minutes into the game and missed 10 of its first 11 shots. By then the Gators were up 18-3.

Page was in the middle of it all. She grabbed nine rebounds in the first 10 minutes and scored 10 of her team's first 26 points, all the while imploring the O'Connell Center crowd of 3,569 to get fired up.

As in Saturday's victory over Florida International, every starter was a threat.

Junior guard Dana Smith, who led the Gators with 21 points against FIU, scored 16, including five three-pointers, and had seven assists. Junior point guard Mahogany Hudson scored 10 and had seven assists.

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