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UF in final for 4th time

FLORIDA 91, VANDY 69: Roberson scores a career-high 35 in SEC semifinals.

ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published March 14, 2004

ATLANTA - About 14 hours after he had 22 points in an overtime win vs. Alabama, guard Anthony Roberson scored a career-high 35 Saturday afternoon to help Florida defeat Vanderbilt 91-69 in the semifinals of the SEC tournament in front of 21,446 at the Georgia Dome.

Florida (20-9) plays Kentucky at 1 today for the championship. The Gators will be making their fourth appearance in the title game, their first since 1994. Florida and South Carolina are the only teams in the league that have never won the tournament.

"I'm just so proud of our guys," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "If you look at our team right now, we have three guys that are probably ready to play SEC basketball, that's it. Our freshmen shouldn't be out there on the floor. These guys have made some great strides. I'm excited about having an opportunity to play (today) and they deserve all the credit."

Roberson's scoring effort was the best of this year's tournament and the seventh best in tournament history. He was 7-of-8 from 3-point range and 12-of-15 from the field.

"I shot the ball with confidence and they fell for me," Roberson said. "It was the type of game where I came in confident and shots just fell for me."

Friday night Roberson and Matt Walsh were a combined 7-of-36 from the field, including Walsh's 1-for-15 effort. Walsh rebounded by shooting 8-of-11 (4-of-6 from 3-point range) for 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. Both credited Donovan for instilling confidence in them even on off nights.

"At one point in the game (Friday) I said "I can't hit anything' and Coach said "Yes you can,' and we came out and ran a play for me," Walsh said. "I know I'm not going to have many games where I go 1-for-15."

Both teams were coming off overtime wins, with little recovery time, and neither could get an advantage in the first half. Florida led 40-38 at halftime.

But in the second half, the Gators flourished and Vanderbilt faltered. After Dan Cage hit a 3-pointer at the 10:06 mark to pull Vanderbilt within 64-60, the Commodores didn't hit another field goal until Scott Hundley got a steal and a layup with 3:56 left, allowing Florida to go on a 14-3 run. Vandy opened the game by making five of its first 11 3-point shots, then made 4-of-26 after that.

Florida shot 59 percent from 3-point range (13-of-22) and the Gators hit 17-of-24 in the second half.

"Obviously our problem was on the defensive end today," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "In the second half, we looked a step behind. And Florida played as well as I've seen them play."

Florida has gotten strong play inside from sophomore Adrian Moss and freshman Chris Richard. Moss had 10 points and eight rebounds against Alabama and scored 13 and had six rebounds on Saturday. Richard added seven points.

After making the winning basket Friday, freshman Lee Humphrey had six points in Saturday's game. Vanderbilt's Mario Moore led the Commodores with 16 points.

Florida will play Kentucky for the second time in seven days. The Wildcats beat the Gators by 20 last Sunday in Lexington. The last time Florida defeated Kentucky in an SEC tournament was 1985. Florida lost three straight to the Wildcats in 1994, 1995 and 1996.

"They are a tremendous basketball team, I'm not going to sit here and tell you any differently," said forward David Lee (eight points, eight rebounds, six assists). "They have all the attributes of a championship team. But right now we're very, very confident that if we go out there and leave it all on the court then we've got a chance to win a championship and that's what we're excited about."

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