ST. CATHARINES -- Long after the predictable blowout became reality, the Florida Gators decided it was time to really show Canadians what NCAA basketball champions can do.
Fifteen minutes into an exhibition game against the ridiculously overmatched Brock Badgers, 6-foot-10, 245-pound Al Horford soared over several flat-footed Badgers for an unforgettable put-back dunk, giving Florida a 43-17 lead.
Highlight-reel dunks by fellow Gator stars Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah, the true fan favourite, came soon after, giving a sellout crowd of 1,200 a mouth-watering taste of big-time college basketball. The outcome -- never in doubt -- in Florida's first game since winning the U.S. national championship last April was an 107-51 win over a shorter and slower Brock team that simply savoured the experience.
"A lot of people are going to look at the score and say you're not going to learn anything from it, but we really learned a lot," Brock coach Ken Murray said. "That was the most important thing ... Forget about what's on the scoreboard. Let's make sure we get ready for our season. I'm really happy."
While the game meant far less to the Gators, they also seemed to enjoy the outing. It was a chance to get all four of their freshmen involved and work out the kinks.
"I think it was a good experience for us," Horford said. "Just the fact we could practise as a team and get our freshmen in and get them used to the way we play and our offence and everything. And then being able to come here and play against some teams here is a good experience."
With a defending NCAA champion playing in Canada for the first time, it certainly didn't feel like a typical Brock-Laurentian OUA game. Then again, it didn't resemble the NCAA final, either, when 43,168 showed up in Indianapolis to watch the Gators beat UCLA last April, seeing as Florida opted to wear practice jerseys without names against Brock. Florida coach Billy Donovan elected to have two of his five returning starters -- Noah, a top NBA prospect and the hero last year, and Taurean Green -- come off the bench
Brock, not surprisingly, looked nervous, turning the ball over countless times against an inspired Florida press. When the Gators went ahead 54-23 in the first half, Badgers coach Ken Murray bellowed, "Show some pride."
But the Badger fans stayed behind their team, giving loud ovations for every Brock basket and the team played much better against a younger Gators side in the second half. Chris Keith, with a good shooting touch, led Brock with 17 points.
"When I'm an old man, I'm sure I'm going to chirp about that to my kids for sure," Keith said.
Fans lined up hundreds-deep, stretching into a secondary gymnasium 90 minutes before the game so they could land a choice location in the cozy general admission facility.
"I think we surprised a lot of them," Keith said. "A lot of them came up to us and said good game and I think they thought they were going to beat us by 100 or something."
A Guelph all-star team faces Florida today (4 p.m.) at Brock.