Gators hope Vandy results are different

They played a month ago and in a different venue. The Florida Gators will now take on the Vanderbilt Commodores in an important rematch as far as the SEC standings go. Both teams are just two games out of first place, but tied for fifth in the conference. With four games left this contest means a lot to both.

Florida Gators (17-10, 8-6) vs Vanderbilt Commodores (16-11, 8-6)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016; 7 p.m.

Gainesville, Florida; Stephen C. O’Connell Center


The Commodores present a huge challenge for the Gators because they could be considered the best defense in the SEC. Bolstered by the presence of two 7-foot starters, Vanderbilt has the athleticism to defend under the basket and all the way to the arc in the half court.

“We’re preparing for a team in Vandy who really stifled us defensively,” Florida head coach Mike White said Monday of his team’s first contest with Vandy where the Gators were held to just 32.9% shooting. “They are third in the country in affecting field goal percentage defense, third in the country in defending the three. That is our concern now, starting with Vanderbilt tomorrow… how do we score, how do we manufacture points in the half court?  That’s where we’re at.

White isn’t into scaring his team about the consequences or where this game will lead. He just wants them to play their best.

“I know with a team like this we have bigger concerns than adding pressure, so we’re not going to do any of that,” he said. “I think they are important games for us and everyone else in our league. We all want to play our best basketball down the stretch

“I don’t know if any of our guys will put any more pressure on themselves at this time. I think putting a little bit of pressure on yourself is healthy and too much can backfire.”


Florida Projected Starters

Ht. / Wt.



F Justin Leon (JR)

6-8, 196



F Dorian Finney-Smith (SR)

6-8, 220



C John Egbunu (SO)

6-11, 255



G KeVaughn Allen (FR)

6-2, 183



G Kasey Hill (JR)

6-1, 180




Vanderbilt Projected Starters




F Luke Kornet (JR)

7-1, 240



F Jeff Roberson (SO)

6-6, 220



C Damian Jones (JR)

7-0, 245



G Wade Baldwin IV (SO)

6-3, 194



G Matthew Fisher-Davis (SO)

6-5, 185


The big guys for Vanderbilt are absolutely tough inside and out. Forward Luke Kornet and center Damian Jones take up a lot of space and are gifted athletes for their size. Florida will have to get to the boards as a group, especially on offense.

“I hope we follow it a little bit better when he’s in the paint,” White said of taking the ball to Jones. “I don’t think our little guys need to run in there and jump up and try and score one-on-one against him. He’s terrific defensively at protecting the rim, blocking shots, altering shots, defending ball screens, hedging on shooters, and then staying home and defending his guy. It’s not only him, Damian Jones has the ability to move his feet unlike most 7-footers. Heck, he started the game on our three-man, on Justin Leon. He can switch on point guards and block shots vs. centers. Kevin (Stallings) really has them defending at a high level.”

Florida was able to corral 19 turnovers off of Vanderbilt in the last contest. The Gators didn’t help themselves with 13 of their own, but did score 15 of their 59 points off of those turnovers in the one point loss.  

“Just getting strips and getting out in transition,” White said of the importance. “It was just like the South Carolina game when we settled in defensively on the road, it gives us a chance, especially when our guards rebound the basketball and get out in transition offense. We all know by now that we’re just better in transition. When defenses get set against us, at times we have struggled.

“If we can get stops in the first 20 minutes tomorrow, maybe we can settle in to getting some baskets before their defense has a chance to get set.”

One theme that has been thrown around about this team is that they shoot the ball from the arc too much. The Gators are shooting just 31.3% from the arc overall and are 13th of 14 teams in the conference from behind the 3-point line. In the loss against South Carolina on the Gators shot just 28.1% for the game from the arc. But, 32 of their 65 shots came from behind the arc.

White isn’t too concerned about taking too many from deep.

“I just want us taking good shots and I don’t want us to turn the ball over and at least a chance to chase it on the offensive glass. What really killed us down the stretch (against the Gamecocks) were the 15 turnovers that led to South Carolina’s points. That takes away from how close it was to being a great effort defensively.

“They score so many times off of turnovers and get extra possessions off of 15 turnovers.”

But threes are part of the game and Florida hasn’t been a team with a nice flow on the offensive side.  

“We’re not a team that has had a lot of success for creating for ourselves,” White said. “Unfortunately, Vanderbilt does the same thing (as South Carolina).

“We’re just not great at one thing offensively. We will continue to try and improve. We’ve had success in certain games in throwing it into the post. We’ve had success in certain games with the guards penetrating and getting guys open three looks. But, we’ve never had a lot of success with guys just putting their head down and creating for themselves.

“Every team in this league will defend you differently. I know what’s coming in Vanderbilt in that they’re terrific in running you off of the three point line and defending the three point line with that length. We’re going to have to make plays in the paint. We’re going to have to score it in the paint and/ or get points at the foul line… and we have to be off the charts defensively.”

With the Vanderbilt bigs being such an important part of their game plan, it is important for Florida to try and match that. In the first match up, Florida center John Egbunu played just 23 minutes and fouled out of the contest.

Free throws then became a huge issue. Vanderbilt missed more 12 of the 33 shots taken, than the Gators took in the game (10).

“We’ve got to get him going on the interior (Tuesday), White said of Egbunu. “It’s important. That said, he has to be on the floor to do so. He has to make good decisions defensively against their big guys, Jones and Kornet.

“I think foul trouble with him has been a big key. The understanding of how teams are defending him. Another factor is that we’re not a great interior passing team or post passing team. We’ve gotten better at it… understanding when he’s open and how to get him the ball.

The Gators have parts of the game where they continue to play well. Then the shooting comes around either part of the game or the entire game, and a few times they control their turnovers that allow them to play at an elite level.

“I‘m not sure if we’re peaking or if we even have another level in us offensively… we’ll keep striving for improvement,” White said. “Defensively, in terms of our effort, the way that individuals have progressed with their motor, specifically Devin Robinson, I don’t think I can ask for our guys to play any harder. I think we’re flying around playing at a high level, attacking the offensive glass, throwing our bodies around defensively. I am really pleased with the effort right now.”

Robinson could be a big difference in this game compared to the last time the two played. Robinson played just 13 minutes, had zero points, three rebounds and three fouls in the last go around.

“Overall Devin has come a long way,” White said. “I’m very proud of Devin’s motor and effort. He’s flying around. If he plays with that energy level and toughness that he played with the other day (15 points, 8 rebounds vs. South Carolina) and making shots… he’s hard to take out of the game. He’s hard to block out and using that God given length and athleticism that he’s got to the best of his ability. He’s been really impressive.”

“I hope he falls into a few open threes against Vanderbilt, but I don’t think it’s something we can just count on either.”

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