"We really needed it," Florida coach Billy Donovan said on his postgame radio show. "It was good to see him break out. He had multiple three-point shots with some good looks. We're running some action where he's going to get good looks. When Patric is rolling to the basket, they've got to account for him. He's getting it at the top of the key."
Finney-Smith scored from deep and in the paintThe win gave Florida its 20th straight win, pushing the team to 15-0 in Southeastern Conference play and clinching at least a share of the conference title. The Florida seniors clinched their third SEC title, most in for a senior class in school history.
The win keeps Florida perfect through a stretch of the conference schedule that had four of the last five games on the road. The Gators only have one road game left this season -- at South Carolina on March 4.
"Everybody looked at our schedule and said this was the hardest stretch on our schedule, maybe going back to December when we had to play Kansas, Memphis and Connecticut," Donovan said. "You talk about these kids going on the road at Tennessee, at Kentucky, home against Auburn, at Ole Miss, at Vandy and coming away undefeated? For our team to find ways to win games, I'm really proud of them."
The game went back and forth during the first 10 minutes, but Florida took control and led for the final 31:52 of action. What Vanderbilt lacked in size, coach Kevin Stallings tried to make up for by running. The Florida defense, which forced 10 turnovers in the first half, was up to the test while using the press to take advantage of the Commodores.
"Our press was pretty effective in the game and that was really helpful," Donovan said.
The size advantage for Florida showed on the boards. The Gators outrebounded Vanderbilt 32-26, but Florida had a 13-4 advantage on the offensive glass. Those numbers led to a 13-1 advantage for the Gators on second-chance points.
"That was a huge key," Donovan said. "Patric chased basketballs and had six offensive rebounds. Dorian Finney-Smith got to the offensive glass. We did a really good job on the backboard and keeping possessions alive."
After averaging 18 points in the previous four games, Wilbekin went 3-10 from the field and scored just seven points. The concern for Donovan is that his senior guard has been on the bench for just four minutes in the last two games. The groin injury for freshman backup Kasey Hill has forced Wilbekin into big minutes.
"We need Kasey Hill to get back healthy," Donovan said. "I've got (Wilbekin) out there too much. He's such a warrior. He'll say to me that he doesn't want to come out and that he's fine, but at some point when you play that many minutes and you're pressing, it's going to effect your offense. He's a great competitor."
After playing a Wednesday-Saturday-Tuesday turnaround, the Gators now have a chance to catch their breath. The team will get the day off on Wednesday before starting LSU preparations on Thursday. Florida hosts the Tigers on Saturday at 4 p.m.
If Kentucky beats Arkansas in Lexington on Thursday, the Gators can clinch the outright SEC title in front of a sold-out O'Connell Center on Saturday. But it won't come easy.
"Maybe, next to Kentucky, the most talented team in the league," Donovan said about LSU. "Really dangerous, really athletic. Last Saturday, they had every opportunity to beat Kentucky. We know we'll be in for a battle."