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College basketball

Youth keeps UF unscathed in SEC

FLORIDA 87, VANDY 75: Lee, Roberson help Gators pull away for best start in program history.

By JILL MARTIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2003


GAINESVILLE -- The streak continues, barely.

No. 5 Florida got help from sophomore David Lee and freshman Anthony Roberson to withstand a late run from Vanderbilt, improving to 5-0 in Southeastern Conference play by defeating the Commodores 87-75 at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Wednesday night.

Florida (16-2) and Kentucky are the only teams undefeated in the SEC, but that wouldn't be the case if the Gators had given up their large lead in the second half.

"I've got one word for how we played the last seven minutes of tonight: immaturity," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.

Florida has won 12 in a row and is off to its best SEC start since 1960-61. The Gators' overall record is the best in program history.

Although Florida led by as many as 21 points, Vanderbilt (8-8, 1-4 SEC) made things close.

With a little more than three minutes remaining, the Commodores made a final push, with a Russell Lakey layup cutting the deficit to nine. The deficit remained eight with 1:26 left.

Florida, however, pulled away and capped the night with a Matt Walsh pass leading to a Lee dunk with 18.3 seconds left.

Lee said the play surprised just about everyone on the floor, himself included.

"I had like five or six seconds to collect myself and score," Lee said.

Donovan said he probably should have subbed more when the Gators had extended their lead to 20. He said his players got tired and started taking ill-advised shots.

"We haven't played with that big of a lead in a long time," Donovan said.

Both sides shot well to open the game except for two brief Vanderbilt droughts, which Florida capitalized on.

The Commodores kept things close and trailed 30-28 with 6:54 left in the first half. Following a timeout, the Gators went on a 9-0 run, highlighted by a Lee dunk that led to a three-point play. He also blocked a shot and had another score during that stretch.

Although listed as a forward, Lee has emerged as Florida's center. He played the role well, keeping the Commodores mostly on the perimeter and making his presence felt offensively in the paint with his scoring and key rebounds.

Lee ended with a career performance, finishing with 22 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. Fifteen points and both blocks came in the first 20 minutes.

"He's an excellent athlete," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "He runs and jumps great and he's got terrific timing. But I just love how active he is."

Brett Nelson did more than show he's emerging from his shooting slump, and Roberson continued his large contributions from the bench.

Nelson had 10 points and three assists in the first half, including an alley-oop to Lee. He finished with 14 points and four assists. Roberson had 20 points.

Vanderbilt shot 50 percent from 3-point range in the first half, including 3-of-4 from Matt Freije and 3-of-3 from Jason Holwerda, but the Commodores still trailed 51-40 at halftime.

The Gators' first-half output was their best since March 4, 2001, against Kentucky.

The second Vanderbilt cold streak came at the start of the second half, along with some carelessness. The Commodores missed their first three shots, and when they weren't shooting they were turning the ball over.

The drought lasted until 14:39 was left in the game. By that point, Florida was ahead 62-46.

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