tampabay.com

Gators show some muscle in second half, move to 7-0 in SEC

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published February 1, 2007


GAINESVILLE - For 20 minutes Wednesday night, No. 24 Vanderbilt had No. 1 Florida on the ropes. The Commodores outmuscled and outshot the Gators and led by double digits at halftime.

But a bizarre opening to the second half, complete with five technicals in a 6:30 span, led to a rally and a 74-64 Gator victory in a soldout O'Connell Center.

Florida 20-2, 7-0 remains the only unbeaten team in SEC play, but after trailing 41-30 at the half, that distinction wasn't easy to retain.

"Thank God, I was surprised we were only down by 11," coach Billy Donovan said. "If they had just made a couple more 3-point shots, we're down 17 or 18 points at the half and it may be insurmountable."

Donovan's message at halftime was simple. "Coach told us it's not our offense that's killing us, it's our defense," junior guard Taurean Green said.

Vandy went 0-for-4 to open the second half. Then came the bizarre.

Green was called for a technical with 17:30 left, but Vanderbilt missed both free throws. With 16:35 left, Commodores coach Kevin Stallings was called for a technical and assistant King Rice received a technical and was ejected. Green hit 3 of 4 free throws and a 3-pointer on UF's next possession to cap a 13-0 run and give the Gators a 43-41 lead.

After the Gators tied it again at 45, guard Lee Humphrey hit 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions, the last one two steps behind the line.

With 11:44 left, UF had outscored Vanderbilt 26-6 and had a 56-47 lead. Florida went 9-of-10 during that stretch, Vandy (15-7, 5-3) 3-of-11, 0-for-4 from 3-point range (3-of-18 for the game). Humphrey made 4 of 5 3s in the second half.

At one point in the first half, the Gators trailed by 12, their largest deficit of the season. Florida shot 29 percent (9-of-31) and had no answer for the Commodores' backdoor cuts as Vandy outscored it 16-10 in the paint and 6-0 on the break and shot 53 percent. Florida went without a field goal for nearly eight minutes. It didn't matter.

"We will have to play a lot better if we are ever going to beat them," Stallings said. "I thought our guys played as hard as they could and we got outplayed by a pretty wide margin in the second half."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3389.