UF's 72-62 win keeps it a game back of Kentucky heading into Sunday's showdown in Gainesville.
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2001
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- "Huge" was the correct word.
Both for the importance of No. 6 Florida's 72-62 victory over Vanderbilt on Wednesday night and for the 24-point effort from Gators guard Brett Nelson.
"It was a huge win tonight because if we don't win, we can't win the SEC title, and that was our goal coming into the season," said Nelson, who was 8-of-13 from the field.
The Gators clinched second place in the Eastern Division and remained a game behind Kentucky, setting up Sunday's regular-season finale at the O'Connell Center. The top two teams in each division receive first-round byes in the SEC tournament.
Florida was clinging to a 58-57 lead with 6:26 to play before turning the men's college basketball game its way with some rugged defense.
"I thought Major (Parker) did a great job on (Brendan) Plavich and taking away the three-point shot at the end of the game. That was the difference tonight," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
Florida's offensive depth made much of the difference, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said:
"I've been impressed all year with Florida and tonight was no exception. I feel they are the best offensive team in the league. Not having a go-to guy that can pound their players to create opportunities for our team hurt us."
The Gators appeared in control after building a 35-24 halftime lead, but Vanderbilt opened the second half with a 14-4 run, pulling within 39-38 after a three-pointer by Matt Freije.
Florida twice built the lead back to 11 points. Consecutive jumpers by Nelson gave the Gators a 58-47 lead with 8:20 to play, but again Vanderbilt rallied.
Russell Lakey capped a 10-0 Commodores run with a three-pointer to cut the Gators' lead to 58-57 with 6:10 left.
Vanderbilt had a chance to take the lead, but Freije missed a jumper from the baseline. Nelson then helped Florida put the game away, scoring half the Gators' last 14 points.
Leading 66-59 after a dunk by Matt Bonner with 1:13 remaining, the Gators made 6 of 8 free throws to hold off the Commodores.
Parker added 11 points for Florida, which won once at Memorial Coliseum during the 1990s and gave Donovan his first win at Vanderbilt in his fifth season.
Chuck Moore led Vanderbilt with 15 points. Anthony Williams added 14.
The Gators used a 12-2 run to break away from a tie at 9 early in the first half.
Teddy Dupay started the Florida run with a jumper from the top of the key. Nelson, who scored five during the run, closed the spree with an inside basket.
Florida twice led by 12 in the opening half, the last at 29-17 after a basket by Bonner with 6:40 remaining.
The Commodores showed life with a 7-0 spurt, keyed by five points from Moore, to close within 29-24 with 3:49 left in the half.
But Florida went on a 6-0 run, which included two baskets by Udonis Haslem, to lead by 11 at halftime.