Gators have shot at title

Wednesday, February 28, 2001 at 1:00am

There have been stories aplenty in the SEC East during this basketball season. Remember when the Big Blue started off a ghastly 3-5 and Kentuckians were calling for the head of one Orlando Tubby Smith?

Then there was Georgia, coming from absolutely nowhere to storm out to a 6-1 record in the SEC.

And, of course, the story in recent weeks has been coming out of Knoxville, where losses, boos, car trouble, injured ankles, suspensions, ejections and hastily called press conferences have been the order of the day.

Through it all, there has been a little team in Gainesville that suddenly has a shot at a share of a second straight SEC regular season title. The Florida Gators have somehow quietly put destiny back into their own hands after a 1-3 start by winning nine of their past 10 games.

Florida plays at a struggling and confidence-depleted Vanderbilt tonight and then may host Kentucky on Sunday for all the SEC East marbles.

The Gators are coming together at the right time of year and have a chance to do as much damage as they did last year in the NCAA Tournament, winning five games before falling on Championship Monday.

Florida coach Billy Donovan is getting inspired play from junior center Udonis Haslem, who won SEC Player of the Week honors with a pair of dominating performances against Ole Miss and Alabama. Haslem had 21 points (9-for-11 from the floor) in a 20-point win over the Rebels and a career-high 28 points in the 21-point victory over Alabama.

The other major weapon at Donovan

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