WOMEN'S HOOPS: Vandy Snuffs Out Gator Rally

While the term "speed kills" is often quite appropriate Florida's undersized Gators found out that big people in the paint kill, too, Sunday afternoon at the O'Connell Center. Vanderbilt's taller, stronger Commodores did an inside job on the Gators, taking a 76-69 Southeastern Conference victory.

The loss dropped the Gators to 14-11 overall and 5-7 in conference play. Twentieth-ranked Vanderbilt improved to 19-6, 8-4 in the SEC, as its forward combo of Ashley Earley and Carla Thomas combined for 44 points and 17 rebounds to dominate Florida's front line.

"They are a real good combo to have from one to the other," Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb said. "Carla was stepping up and hitting shots from the top of the key. Florida is a very good team and our conference is so deep this year."

UF senior Tamia Williams' hot hand from beyond the arc (5-7) kept the Gators in the game. Her 22 points were a team high. Florida's lack of size forced Coach Carolyn Peck to play forward Tashia Morehead as an undersized center. But, even with problems in the paint, the Gators rallied from 14 points down to 62-59 with 5:11 left to play. Forced to foul in the final minutes, Vanderbilt responded with 10-10 from the foul line down the stretch.

"It takes a lot of energy to get back in a position to win and I think we did, but Carla Thomas was solid in her free throws," Morehead said.

The Gators began their rally with less than seven minutes left in the second half as guard Sarah Lowe's three pointer put the score at 62-52. Morehead hit two consecutive shots in the paint and Lowe got a steal that she converted into a three-point play the old fashioned way to cut Vandy's lead to three.

"We were down three and I felt like we had put ourselves back in the position to win that game," Peck said. "We fouled Carla Thomas with two seconds left and she made both of her shots."

The loss dampens the Gators NCAA tournament chance because of such a tightly packed SEC race. With the last home game of the regular season scheduled for Thursday night against Georgia, Williams isn't letting her eligibility expire with worries.

"Yes, I'm a senior, but I don't want to look to far ahead, but right now we still have a couple games left and I just want to finish strong," Williams said. "We are putting ourselves in position to win games, but we need to finish down the stretch."

Normally a reliable offensive threat, forward Bernice Mosby struggled, shooting 5-16 from the field. Mosby was consistently confronted with the Commodore's 6-3 Thomas in the paint. Compounding issues was a stomach bug that slowed her down considerably.

"She wasn't feeling well before the game started and that's why she didn't start the beginning of the second half," Peck said. "I got to credit Vanderbilt because they played really well, but we still got a couple games left and the SEC tournament to make our move."

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