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Sloppy, short-handed, UF hangs on

©Associated Press
January 13, 2002

NASHVILLE -- Udonis Haslem struggled for a second straight game. Justin Hamilton dislocated his right shoulder early in the second half. Florida gave instead of taking away.

Against Vanderbilt, the third-ranked Gators had more than enough left.

Matt Bonner scored 28 to lead five players in double figures and added 12 rebounds as Florida beat Vanderbilt 95-85 Saturday and improved on the best start in school history with its 13th consecutive victory.

"They found a way to win the game," coach Billy Donovan said of his Gators. "Give the Vanderbilt kids a lot of credit. They did the exact same thing. Down by 25 in the second half, they could've stopped playing.

"We realize we were very, very fortunate to win. Any time you win in this place you always feel good."

The Gators (14-1, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) also won their 10th consecutive conference game and won consecutive games at Memorial Gym for the first time since 1984-85. It was their 10th victory over Vandy in Nashville.

Vanderbilt made school history with its 12th consecutive SEC loss. The Commodores' only comfort was in keeping the final score as close against a team that leads the country with an average victory margin of 22.8 points.

"I don't derive anything from losing," Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said. "I don't care who you are or who you play. The only thing you learn from losing is how to lose."

The Gators never trailed after Bonner made two free throws for a 21-19 lead, and they led by as many as 25 points twice as they used their height advantage in the frontcourt to outrebound Vanderbilt 43-20.

"He stepped up today, just as we have had someone do all season long," Donovan said.

Bonner had 20 points in the first half as he went 7-for-9 from the field with three 3-pointers.

"It is always a sign of a good team when you can have one guy step up and lead, and today it was my turn to do so," Bonner said. "In the first half, I had a lot of open looks, and the shots were falling for me."

Brett Nelson scored 20 for Florida before fouling out in the final minute. David Lee had 11 and James White and Haslem 10 each as the Gators shot 55 percent (29-for-52) to 44 percent for Vandy.

But Vanderbilt didn't let Florida leave with a rout.

Hamilton dislocated his shoulder about four minutes into the second half. Doctors popped the joint back into place after the game, and Donovan said he hopes to have his point guard miss only a game.

Vandy trailed 64-39 when Brendan Plavich started a 22-7 run with one of his six 3-pointers with 14:51 left. Scott Hundley's three-point play pulled the Commodores within 71-61 midway through the half.

The Commodores forced 12 of Florida's 21 turnovers in the second half, with Jason Holwerda coming up with four of the team's eight steals.

"We were a sieve the way they were going by us," Donovan said.

The Commodores pulled within 75-67 on a 3-pointer by Matt Freije with 6:57 to go, but that was as close as they got as the Gators went 12-for-16 from the line over the final 5:30.

"They're too good a team to think you're going to come back on them when they have a big lead," Stallings said.

Freije finished with 21 points to lead Vanderbilt, and Plavich added 18. Sam Howard and Brian Thornton each had 11 and David Przybyszewski had 10.

Donovan saw it as a nice turnaround for his Gators, who pulled out a 104-100 overtime victory at Tennessee on Wednesday night. The Gators swept the road games against the Tennessee teams for the fourth time in school history.

"It was a good win for us," he said.

The Gators closed the first half with the start of a 13-0 run to go ahead 46-29 at halftime.

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