VETTEL: Can the Gators be Consistent?

Granted Saturday afternoon was the Al Horford show. The Florida big man had perhaps his finest game as a Gator against Vanderbilt. You don't see too many double-doubles with 16 points and 16 boards. Horford in essence began taking over the game when he started pounding the glass on one possession to help Florida cut Vanderbilt's lead from ten to eight.

Horford Played Inspired Game

He ended up with a season-high on the glass and posted his fifth double-double of the season and the first since posting a 15/11 stat line at Georgia.

But Horford's effort may not be the most important or significant thing that comes out of the Vandy win. In fact I believe three other elements of that game are even ore critical to Florida's development because it's an indication Florida is doing something about overcoming its weaknesses.

Humphrey's Game Keeps Progressing

Junior guard Lee Humphrey is already a better player than I ever thought he would be. His development this season has been remarkable and a key to Florida's success. Still, entering the Vanderbilt game Humphrey was pretty much a one-dimensional scorer. 59 of Humphrey's 71 field goals had come from long distance, making the job of preparing for him much easier.

But the Vandy game could change that a bit. Oh, I'm not foolish enough to think Humphrey's main threat won't remain his ability to shoot from long distance. Anytime a guy can flirt with 50 percent from three-point range that's going to get your attention. But against the Commodores, Humphrey made four of his six baskets inside the arc.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan says outside shooting should open up more opportunities for the junior from Maryville, Tennessee. "Well, he knocked down his first shot which I think was a good thing for him because he had not shot the ball particularly well," Donovan said. "It was great to see Lee mix up his game. He put the ball on the floor. He drove it to the basket. He got it in the lane and maintained a level of aggressiveness. Lee took a step today (Saturday) in a positive direction. He found other ways to help our team other than shooting threes. He finally started driving it, putting it on the floor and making things happen and that was good to see."

Humphrey was injured in an accident Sunday evening. He is out for one to three weeks with a shoulder injury and while he is out we will see first hand just how valuable he is to the Gators. His speedy recovery is critical to the development of the team. Meanwhile, the Gators, who already have a short bench in terms of numbers, will be playing with one less body.

Bench "Bigs" Deliver

Wednesday's loss at South Carolina saw Florida reserve big men Adrian Moss and Chris Richard combine for four points, three rebounds and four turnovers in just 18 minutes. Against Vanderbilt, those numbers were 15, 8 and 2 in 34 minutes. Florida's "bench bigs" kept the Gators in the game early, scoring 12 of the team's first 31 points.

Billy Donovan loved the productivity, because he says the bigs off the bench have to help keep the minutes reasonable for Florida's sophomore starters.

"Really a guy like Al Horford or Joakim Noah, the guys that are starting need to play between 25 and 30," Donovan said after the game. "That's the perfect number for them. Then there's times you can't do anything about it because guys are in foul trouble and you're forced to play. The one guy that was great to see respond and come back the way he did --- because he had a tough night in Columbia --- was Adrian Moss. He really gave us great minutes off the bench and played pretty well, as did Chris Richard."

Walter Hodge Coming On

Throughout the season I have made the point that Florida's greatest concern had to be a backup point guard because this team did not play well when Taurean Green was off the floor. Freshman Walter Hodge celebrated his first start by playing an excellent game Saturday with nine points, three rebounds and just one turnover in 30 minutes. Hodge, who couldn't throw in the ocean from the beach in November is shooting better than 50 percent from the field in SEC games and has made 4-9 three pointers.

Billy Donovan likes what he's seeing out of Hodge lately. "He's an on-edge focused kid who has great readiness about him," Donovan said. "He plays very hard. I just tried to explain to Walter that his playing time was not going to be based on him shooting the basketball. His playing time is going to be based on how well he defends and the decisions he makes. Sometimes he makes crazy decisions as a freshman. He gets in the lane and he throws some crazy passes and I told him just be simple."

Most freshmen need more time to be ready on the other end of the floor, but Donovan says that's not the case with Hodge. "The thing about him, he's a fast, physical, tough defender," Donovan said. "I have confidence throwing him in there. He tries really hard, and I think he's gotten away from the scoring piece of it. Coming out of high school he had to be a scorer, but now he's not scoring and his worried about other facets of his game."

Consistency Next Hurdle

So the Gators hit the boards and made significant progress in some weak areas against Vandy. Those are very positive steps. But most anyone will tell you the last thing to develop in a young team is consistency. While all five Florida starters average in double figures, each has had at least six games in which he scored fewer than ten points. While the Gators out rebounded the Commodores by nine, they've been out rebounded in four of six SEC games.

The first chance to show signs of improving consistency comes tonight at Ole Miss (8 p.m., ESPN2), which may be the surprise team of the SEC. Let's see if Florida wins the battle of the boards. Let's see what kind of game Walter Hodge has in his second straight game as a starter. Let's see how the "bench bigs" perform. Let's see if the Gators get their second conference road win of 2006.

This game looked like it might be pretty easy a week ago. Now it looms as a major test of Florida's resolve and resiliency.

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