When the teams played two weeks ago, they looked to be heading in different directions. Vanderbilt was coming in on a seven-game losing streak while Florida was riding back-to-back wins. Instead of that continuing, The Commodores snapped their losing streak and sent the Gators on one of their own after Vanderbilt won 67-61.
To give the Commodores a boost in that game, head coach Kevin Stallings inserted senior James Siakam into the starting lineup. The 6-7 forward made his only field goal attempt but went 10-11 from the free throw line, adding 11 rebounds and five blocked shots. The Commodores were also helped by Riley LaChance’s 15 points plus 13 points and seven rebounds from Damian Jones, but it was Siakam that made the biggest difference.
“I thought (he) did a great job in the game,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He really was the difference in a lot of ways. He scored the ball well around the basket, and a lot of it was off offensive rebounds, putbacks. He had blocked shots. He really dominated. He and (Damian) Jones I thought in particular played extremely well up front. And they in particular did a really, really good job on the glass.
“We’re going to have to do a much, much better job on Wednesday than we did last time we were in Nashville because I thought he particular had a terrific game and was the difference in the game in a lot of respects.”
The difference was in the physicality in the paint. Jones and Siakam set the tone with how physical they played, and the Gators didn’t have an answer for them. Jon Horford and Chris Walker combined for four points and five rebounds in the game, totally dominated by the Vanderbilt frontcourt. Foul trouble for Dorian Finney-Smith made it even more difficult for the Gators to get going at the rim.
When Florida hosts the Commodores at 7 p.m. on Wednesday (TV: SEC Network), they’ll have to match Vanderbilt’s physical presence.
“We’ve got to master their physical presence,” Florida guard Eli Carter said. “They had a couple guys in their front court that were a lot tougher than us, so we’ve got to come up with a different physical mindset.”
Since that game, the Gators have lost to Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M by a total of nine points. The Commodores have gone on to beat South Carolina and Alabama with a three-point loss to Tennessee also in the three-game stretch. The teams have gone in different directions, and the Vanderbilt’s hot streak has been caused by some freshmen growing up.
“They have a lot of freshmen, particularly in the backcourt, that continue to grow and get better,” Donovan said. “I think winning always maybe changes or makes you feel differently or better about yourself. I’m sure for them winning some games, going on the road winning, they’re probably a very confident basketball team is right now.”