Walker's Big Half Puts Gators in SEC Final

Erving Walker couldn't be found during the first half of Saturday's SEC Tournament semifinal against Vanderbilt. In the second half, the Commodores couldn't find a way to stop him. After a scoreless first half, Walker bounced back for 17 points in the second half to lead the Florida comeback and clinching a spot in the SEC Championship Game.

The Gators outscored Vanderbilt by 19 points in the second half to run away with a 77-66 win over the Commodores at the Georgia Dome.

"It was a team that we were very well familiar with because we played them a week ago in Nashville," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "The preparation on a short prep day where you don't have a lot of time, it was a game where both teams knew each other really well."

After trailing by ten points just over three minutes into the second half, Walker led the Gators on a 15-4 run to put Florida in the lead, scoring nine of the points in that span with only one three-pointer. Walker hit three three-pointers during the second half.

Walker was the most dominant in the second half, but Kenny Boynton also chipped in with 16 points in the second half. The two totaled 41 points, with 33 of those coming in the final 20 minutes.

"I didn't play bad, but it wasn't great," Walker said. "I just tried to be patient and get good spots. My teammates found me for good looks."

The difference came in confidence. The Florida guards had good looks in the second half, and after playing well recently, their confidence was already high.

"It was a confidence level," Boynton said. "I'm taking good shots and not forcing anything. When I get in a rhythm, they just fall."

The hot shooting in the second half led Florida to the semifinal win, but it didn't surprise the Commodores' head coach.

"They got hot in the second half and made some tough ones," Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said. "But that's what they do, that's what they have done all season long, and that's what they have done all season long. That's why they're the league champion."

Florida went into the locker room at halftime trailing 36-28 after looking out of sync and never holding a lead in the first half. Vanderbilt jumped out to an early 11-2 lead and caused Billy Donovan to use an early timeout. The Gators fought back to tie the game at 18 when Casey Prather hit his first three-pointer since November 28.

The Commodores dominated the first half because of Florida's inability to hold onto the basketball. The Gators turned it over ten times in the first half. Vanderbilt scored 18 points off those turnovers, while Florida scored zero points off the Commodores' one first-half turnover.

In the second half, Florida's 49-point onslaught came by taking care of the ball better. The Gators turned it over only one time in the second half, while forcing five Vanderbilt turnovers.

The improved shooting helped as well. Florida shot 11-for-21 (52.7%) from behind the three-point line, while holding Vanderbilt to 6-for-33 (18.2).

After scoring at least 22 points in the first two meetings with Florida, Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins managed only ten points on 3-for-15 shooting and 2-for-12 from behind the three-point line. It was Vanderbilt's third game in as many days, and the sophomore was dealing with a turf toe injury earlier in the tournament. The Florida guards played much better defense on him, but Jenkins' shot wasn't the same even when he was open.

"Our team did about as good of a job as you can on Jenkins, in particular Kenny did a great job on him," Donovan said. "When the ball leave his hands, it always has a chance to go in. Fatigue could have been an issue for them."

The Gators also won the rebounding margin, 39-30.

Florida advances to play in the SEC Tournament Championship on Sunday at 1 p.m. against Kentucky. The Gators have reached the championship game seven times in program history, with a record of 3-4.

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