Rebels bag Gators

Published 8:30 pm Thursday, January 17, 2008

In a game loaded with talented freshmen, an often overlooked senior helped No. 18 Mississippi finally beat Florida.

Wide-bodied Dwayne Curtis had 20 points and 12 rebounds and bailed the Rebels out by making two free throws that would eventually clinch a nerve-jangling 89-87 victory over the Gators on Wednesday.

“Coach told me to bring it,” Curtis said. “That’s what I tried to do.”

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The Rebels (15-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) snapped a six-game losing streak against the Gators (15-3, 2-1). It was Curtis’ first win against the two-time defending national champions and the first for Ole Miss since 2002.

The Rebels are off to their best start since they began the 1925-26 season 16-1. The only blemish on their record is a two-point loss at No. 6 Tennessee.

“It is a statement game, but you don’t want to make more of it than it is,” Curtis said. “But it’s still important to beat Florida at home.”

The Gators started fast, hitting three straight 3-pointers on the way to an 11-4 lead to open the game. But Florida hit six of 29 the rest of the way and passed up opportunities to push Curtis into foul trouble by driving the ball into the lane.

“We got ’3-happy’ and Ole Miss was able to get back in the game and take control,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “The 3-point line was fool’s gold for us after the fast start.”

Ole Miss reeled off a 17-1 run in answer to Florida’s fast start. Curtis had two layups and a short jumper during the spurt and the Rebels led 23-12 midway through the first half.

They held Florida without a field goal for 6:06 during the run, forcing four turnovers, and the Gators missed eight shots.

Ole Miss would never trail again, but had to withstand several runs by Florida. The Gators scored eight straight points to get within 43-34 at halftime.

They held the Rebels without a field goal for a total of 3:02 in both halves and scored four straight points to begin the second half.

That cut the lead to 43-38, but the Rebels answered and built their biggest lead with a 19-5 run that made it 59-43 with 12:40 left.

Freshman Trevor Gaskins hit two 3-pointers and a short jumper during the run and finished with 19 points.

“The difference in the game was Gaskins,” Donovan said. “Every time we got close, he stepped up and knocked down a big 3.”

Gaskins stole the focus away from the much-anticipated matchup between Florida’s Nick Calathes and Ole Miss’ Chris Warren, who have become two of the SEC’s top guards midway through their first year in college.

Both still had plenty to do with the success of their teams. Warren was held below 10 points for the first time this season, but tied his career high with 10 assists.