Gators Show They Can Win Tough Matchup

Florida's win over Vanderbilt didn't come free. Both teams took and dished out a beating in Tuesday night's overtime game. It was easily the most physical game the Gators have been in this season, and from the outside, they may not look like a team built to win one like that. That's where Billy Donovan is the most proud of his team.

"Two years ago in a game like this, I think we'd have a hard time winning the game," Donovan said. "We're getting better in these games and our guys are growing up, in particular our older guys."

On paper, it looked like a tough matchup for the Gators. After Mississippi State center Renardo Sidney used physicality to get to the hoop whenever he wanted on Saturday to score 16 points, Florida had two physical centers coming to town on Vanderbilt. Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang are listed at 255 and 245 pounds respectively. They combined for only eleven points against the Gators, but Ezeli looked early on like he could get to the basket whenever he wanted.

The downfall of that physicality is fouls, and both players fouled out.

"I felt terrible for the officials because it was a difficult game to officiate," Donovan said. "There's a certain point where you want to let the guys play, but there's a balance where you have to call fouls. I don't think we've played a game that was that physical."

The Commodores had two centers and forward Jeffery Taylor foul out during the game, while the Gators didn't have anyone foul out. Despite that discrepancy, Vanderbilt was only called for three more fouls than Florida.

However, Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings wasn't happy with the way the game was called.

"We must've acquired a new way to play tonight," Stallings said. "We're the number one foul shooting team in terms of attempts of any BCS school in college basketball. We had a heck of a time trying to get there. It was a physical game. It was a great game if you didn't care who won from a standpoint of two teams really going at each other and competing."

The game was played with plenty of contact, and because of that, the officials started to let the teams play in the second half and swallowed their whistles on plays that are likely called fouls in another game.

More contact was allowed on both sides of the floor when a rebound came off the rim, often leaving players lying on the floor.

"Both teams could've fouled out in regulation," Donovan said. "There was no continuity and no rhythm. It reminded me of the Miami Heat and New York Knicks back in the day with (Jeff) Van Gundy and Pat Riley and Alonzo Morning and fistfights where Van Gundy is hanging on a guy's leg. It was that kind of game."

The physicality on both ends of the floor caused both teams to struggle on offense. They each came out on fire to start the game, as Vanderbilt held a 10-8 lead not even four minutes into the game. After that, the game turned into one with slow pace. Each team had six fast break points.

Florida shot 36.7% from the field, while Vanderbilt shot 37.5%.

"Both teams had a very difficult time getting into a flow offensively because of all the contact and pace that the game was played," Donovan said.

The ability to handle physical games like Tuesday night comes from maturity, but the freshmen also play a role in it. Donovan referred to Patric Young and Will Yeguete each as a "physical guy just by nature." That attitude has crept through the rest of the team.

However, as he has done many times this season, Donovan cautioned everyone to remain calm.

"With this group, I would not embrace that," Donovan said. "They don't have it figured out. They probably think they do, but I can tell you right now they don't."

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