Florida Gators stay hot in Vanderbilt win

Vanderbilt came into Wednesday night’s game still seeking its first SEC win of the season, while Florida came in on a four-game winning streak.

Things had been going a little too well for the Gators the last couple weeks. The stars were aligned for an upset in Nashville, but Florida never even let that thought creep in.

The Gators shot it well and controlled the game from the tip as they secured a 71-55 victory.

Andrew Nembhard continued to be the team’s offensive leader as he started the game off with a three-pointer and had seven of Florida’s first nine points.

Aaron Nesmith was a nightmare for the Gators in the first meeting between the teams, and he hit a three to make it 7-5 early. Luckily for Florida, that three accounted for half of his points on the night and that is the closest Vanderbilt would get the rest of the game.

Still, the Gators led by just four nearly six minutes in.

A triple from Jalen Hudson triggered the avalanche. He followed it up with a steal and a monster dunk. Then, Hudson found Noah Locke and Nembhard for threes, making it 23-12. That trio combined for 20 straight Florida points.

Florida forced eight Vanderbilt turnovers in the first half, helping it take a comfortable 41-29 lead to the locker room.

The second half told a similar story. The Gators weren’t tested much at all early on as they stretched their lead to as many as 18. But the Commodores used a 9-2 run to bring it back within 10 points at the 10-minute mark.

Vanderbilt had answers for a little bit, but six straight points from Kevarrius Hayes ended the momentum. The Gators didn’t let the second half lapse change the course of the game, but kept their foot on the gas the rest of the way to cruise to a fifth consecutive win.

“That’s what it takes to win on the road in the SEC,” said head coach Mike White. “I liked the mature approach. There was a lot for us to play for … I really liked our focus and our discipline.”

A good sign for Florida, as it looks to be on track for an NCAA Tournament bid, is the upward trend offensively. The Gators shot 53.6 percent in the first half and finished at a 48 percent clip while making 42.1 percent from long range.

Nembhard led the team with 19 points. He stayed close to perfect as he made seven of his eight shots and has hit 24 of his last 30 from the field.

“He’s in a really good rhythm, deservingly so,” White said. “He’s been in the gym a ton. He’s worked. We’re happy for him. He’s a guy, too, he’s not hunting shots. He’s not coming into a game with an agenda … He just plays the game, lets it come to him, and when he’s open and has a good shot, he takes it.”

Behind Nembhard, Hudson continued to show signs of life with a season-high 17 points. He also earned the most playing time he’s had all season, with 33 minutes on the court. That is likely more so due to his effort defensively as he grabbed three steals and remained aggressive on both ends of the floor throughout the night.

Hayes also finished in double figures with a season-high 14 points and had a pair of blocks.

Everything is going Florida’s way right now, and it will look to keep that going as it returns home for a matchup with Georgia on Saturday. After that, the Gators will close out the regular season against two of the SEC’s top teams in LSU and Kentucky.

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Bailiegh Williams
Growing up the daughter of a baseball coach in a household that revolved around Gators sports, Bailiegh’s future working in sports was her destiny. She played four years of varsity softball at Suwannee High School and one year on softball scholarship at Gulf Coast State College. In her first year she discovered a love for journalism so she packed her bags and moved to Gainesville to finish her A.A. and begin interning for Gator Country. She is now on track to graduate from the University of Florida in 2019. In her free time, Bailiegh enjoys binge watching her favorite TV shows and spending time with her family and her two fur babies.