Bulldogs Win Outright West Title - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

March 1, 2008

Bulldogs Win Outright West Title

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Ben Hansbrough scored 20 points, Charles Rhodes added 15 points and eight rebounds and Mississippi State beat Florida 68-59 today (Saturday).

 The Bulldogs won for the sixth time in seven games, clinched the Southeastern Conference Western Division title and damaged the two-time defending national champion's chances of making a 10th consecutive NCAA tournament. Mississippi State (20-8, 11-3), which reached 20 wins for the seventh time in the last decade, dominated Florida in the low post.

After trailing by 13 points late in the first half, the Gators (21-8, 8-6) trimmed the lead to 41-35 just after halftime. But then Rhodes and Jarvis Varnado took over. Hansbrough came up big, too. Rhodes made three baskets inside, Hansbrough hit a 3-pointer and Varnado blocked two shots to help the Bulldogs push the lead back to 13.

Varnado, the nation's leading shot blocker, finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and seven rejections.

Marreese Speights led Florida with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but the sophomore center also missed a dunk and two easy lay-ups that could have helped keep it close. Nick Calathes added 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

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