Gators Make Peck's Birthday One To Remember

As birthdays go, number forty rates with the best Carolyn Peck has ever had. It started with her team re-arranging her office furniture and filling the room with 200 balloons, a task that began late Saturday night and finished early Sunday morning, and it ended late in the afternoon with the Florida Gators scoring an impressive 73-59 win over 19th-ranked Vanderbilt, the best birthday present of all.

"My team gave me a great birthday present and made today very special from from early this morning and all the way through the game today," said Peck, whose Gators improved to 15-3 overall and 3-2 in the Southeastern Conference. With the win, the Gators also figure to once again crack the national top 25 polls.

In addition to the balloons, the Gators painted Peck's Chevy Tahoe with the slogan "Forty and Fine," loaded her up with cards and flowers and also gave her a tiara (which was worn during the shoot-around Sunday morning) and a queen's sash. All the attention made Peck feel special, but what really capped the day was the way her team played to earn a second straight SEC victory.

It was a tale of two halves for the Gators. The Gators shot a poor 6-24 (25 percent) in the first half and the only thing that kept the game close was Florida's free throw shooting (11-12 in the first half). Vandy only got to the foul line twice. The Commodores hit 15-24 from the field and outrebounded Florida, 17-10, but the points from the foul line kept it close.

Florida came out of the halftime break sizzling hot. The Gators scored the first nine points of the second half, taking the lead for the first time with 17:49 to go when Danielle Santos nailed a three.

Midway through the second half, Florida went on an 18-5 run to take total command of the game. The Gators got six points from freshman Marshae Dotson, a pair of threes from Kim Dye and another three from Santos during a 6:19 stretch that saw Florida increase its lead to 62-50.

For Dotson, it was the second straight double-figures game. She scored 13 off the bench in Wednesday night's win over Ole Miss and she responded with a career-high 17 points in 17 minutes Sunday.

Dye, Florida's designated long range bomber, had the best game of her career, also. She nailed three from three-point range in the second half and finished the game 5-7, good for a career best 15 points.

"Her [Dye's] ability to shoot the three as well as Marshae working inside to power up and get to the free throw line I think really helped the momentum swing our way in the second half," said Peck.

Dye missed all of last season rehabbing from knee surgery. She also hurt her knee earlier in the year so it's been a long, hard comeback. In high school at Shelbyville (TN) Central, she was considered one of the best three-point shooters in the country. Sunday's performance was a clear indicator of the Kim Dye that Peck recruited.

"Kim has worked extremely hard and now the hard work is paying off because she has developed the confidence to take the shots," said Peck. "Even the shots she misses I like the shots because she's taking the good ones and open. I don't want her passing up open threes. That's what we have her on the floor to do."

With Dye stretching the Vanderbilt defense with her three-point shooting, it opened up the middle for Dotson to maneuver. The 5-11 freshman from Columbus, Ohio scored 11 points in the second half. She hit all five of her shots from the field, but it was her ability to get to the foul line that was critical for Florida. Dotson's 7-9 effort from the foul line was a big part of Florida's 17-point scoring edge on free throws. Florida finished the game with 22-29 from the foul line compared to just 5-7 for Vanderbilt.

Dotson credited maturity and her teammates for the recent improvement.

"I've loosened up a little bit and I trust my teammates," said Dotson. "They've really helped me out."

Vanderbilt started a huge front line with 6-4 Liz Sherwood and 6-3 Carla Thomas with 6-3 Nicole Jules coming off the bench. In the first half that threesome scored 20 points and their effectiveness opened the game up for shooting guard Caroline Williams, who hit 12 of her game-high 17 points in the first half.

The Gators cut off the entry passes from the wing to the low post in the second half and they did a far better job of knowing where Williams was at all times. Williams managed just 2-10 from the floor in the second half. The Gators did an excellent job also of trapping Vanderbilt's point guards and making them start the offense much further out than normal.

The second half defensive turnaround was due to better communication on the floor according to Santos, who finished the game with 10 points, five rebounds, three steals, and one blocked shot.

"We were talking a lot more on defense," said Santos. "Once we were talking more and communicating more we were able to play better defense knowing we could make the traps because we knew we had help."

The Gators will travel to Arkansas Thursday and return home next Sunday to face nationally ranked Georgia.

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