A 20-point halftime lead was enough of a cushion for the Gators who held on to beat Vanderbilt 81-74 despite some shaky stretches in the second half when they allowed the Commodores to claw their way back into the game. Even though the Gators struggled to execute their offense late in the second half their excellent free throw shooting (26-29 from the stripe) allowed them to get a hold on the game late and not let it go. Egor Koulechov was a key player for the Gators today as his 22 points and 8 rebounds was a difference maker. Senior forward Jeff Roberson was a stud for Vanderbilt chipping in 18 points on 7-14 shooting with 7 rebounds (4 on the offensive end). Shooting on their home hoops helped the Gators as 8-19 (42.1%) of their 3-pointers fell, much to the delight of the Gainesville faithful.
Under the Weather
Though sickness limited him to only 14 minutes, Jalen Hudson made his presence felt with a quick 8 points, including a 4-point play when he took contact while drilling a 3. Props to Hudson for showing toughness by playing today even though he was feeling ill. Deaundrae Ballard took most of the minutes Hudson would normally play and had a pretty solid game, though you can tell he is still getting into the rhythm of major-conference college basketball as a freshman.
Block Party at 250 Gale Lemerand Dr.
There wasn’t any easy layups available against the Gators today as Kevarrius Hayes had 4 swats and Keith Stone added 3. KeVaughn Allen even joined in on the fun from the guard spot, batting away 2 shots of his own. Rim protection is huge in basketball as shots around the hoop are high percentage looks and those 9 blocks could have easily been 18 Vanderbilt points. Though his one-on-one defense in the post needs work, Hayes has established himself as one of the best help side shot blockers in the nation and Florida needs that effort from him every single night.
Switching It Up
Coach Mike White has been open about him and the rest of the coaching staff searching for a zone defense they can be confident in and today they tried out a 3-2 zone. In this defense the 3 top guard/wing players try to restrict ball movement on the perimeter while the 2 post players on the bottom are responsible for getting out to defend the corners should the ball make it’s way there. Post players at the bottom of the 3-2 have the most difficult role, but the foot speed of players like Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone made this defense work excellently. Florida was able to limit ball movement and maintain pressure on shooters which lead to some highly effective defensive possessions. Playing zone also allowed the Gators to keep Hayes and Stone on the floor while they had foul trouble knowing they couldn’t be picked on as easily by the Commodores. Look for the Gators to continue to use this defense from time to time throughout the SEC season.
Learning to Win
Letting big leads slip has become a far too common occurrence for this year’s Gators team. After a 20 pound lead at halftime, the Gators slowly let the lead bleed out until it got to as close as a 4-point game with around 3 minutes left. It often looks like the team isn’t playing to win, but rather just playing not to lose. Opponents have been able to sense this lack of confidence and the Gators haven’t always been able to hold on. Florida needs to play with confidence and continue to play the offense Mike White has laid out in order to get good shots and not just use clock when they’re up in the second half. This is all part of learning how to be a winning basketball team, and hopefully they can continue to get better throughout the conference slate.
What’s Up Next
Florida goes on the road to take on Texas A&M on January 2nd to open up the New Year. The Aggies are currently the #5 team in the country and dominated their non-conference schedule riding star big man Tyler Davis. Injuries and suspensions have kept Texas A&M from having a consistent roster but that hasn’t stopped them from rolling over teams like West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and USC. This will be an extremely physical and challenging road game for the Gators, but it brings on an excellent opportunity for a quality win.
Have any thoughts from today’s game against Vanderbilt? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.