Walter Hodge posted a career-high 19 points to lead the Gators (18-3, 5-1 SEC), but it was an impressive 23-0 run over a five-minute stretch midway through the first half that proved to be the difference. The Gators created a quick tempo and took advantage of Vandy's (17-3, 2-3 SEC) missed shots, while shutting down the conference's leading scorer.
"The pace of the game was great early," Billy Donovan said after the game. "Both teams were going up and down the court. They missed some baskets in the first half that allowed us to get out on some runners."
The Gators took an early 11-3 lead five minutes into the game. After Vandy guard Keegan Bell knocked down a 3-pointer to trim Florida's lead to five, the Commodores would go scoreless over the next six minutes. The Gators stretched the five point lead to 28 points, 34-6, with 8:09 left in the first half.
The Gators were red-hot from downtown, knocking down four 3s, but they also took advantage of Vanderbilt's missed shots by getting the transition game going. Six different Gators scored during the 23-0 stretch that would end up finishing off the Commodores well before the half.
"That was crazy," Chandler Parsons said. "We were making all these shots and defending one of the best teams in the country. We started to realize that we could be really good if we just continue to work hard and continue to do the things that we do."
"We definitely haven't put anything together like that this year," Nick Caltahes, who didn't score during the run but dished out a couple of assists, said. "We let them come back a little bit when they settled in, but we settled in, too, and beat a heck of a team. Our whole team is so close together that it was great to have a win like that."
The Gators pressured Vandy with a full court defense for the entire stretch and dominated the nation's No. 13 ranked team defensively on the boards and offensively with unselfish play.
"We really got the game going up and down," Donovan said. "It was like practice a lot. We were trying to play chaotic and take the team out of their offense with our press. If we had allowed Vanderbilt to come down and set up their half court, they are such a good team and have all these answers. I thought the zone for us was helpful because they weren't able to run their man offense. In that 10-minute period, the game was chaotic and I think we got some cleaner looks at the basket."
The Commodores didn't play dead after the run, however, and responded with a comeback against the Gators. Vanderbilt followed up Florida's run with a 19-4 run of their own, cutting a 28-point Gator lead to 15 points, 40-25. Vanderbilt got within 13 points, but Parsons beat Shan Foster off the dribble with 48 seconds left in the half and finished with a strong dunk, swinging momentum back into Florida's favor just before the half.
"I had some posters in high school, but that was a nice one," Parsons said. "I took what we could get. Foster was overplaying me a little bit so I went by him with the dribble. They tried to help out, but I just tried to finish strong."
The Gators came out strong in the second half, opening the half with a 17-7 run. The lead was stretched back to 25 points, 63-38, and Vandy never got closer than 15 points the rest of the way.
The Gators made 29 shots, dishing out 26 assists. Calathes led the Gators with 10 followed by Dan Werner with six.
"Nick did a good job, but I also thought Werner may have been just as valuable," Donovan said. "When they started to make a run and started to press us, we tried to go backdoor and you have to have a guy to make that pass. Of Dan Werner's six assists, I'm going say five to six were on back doors. But those two guys had 16 assists and only two turnovers and the ball was in their hands an awful lot."
But just as big as Florida's offensive effort was their defensive effort, which took the SEC's leading scorer almost completely out of the game. Foster averages more than 20 points a game and his prior season low was 13 points, but Florida held him to only seven points.
"He's a great player and a hard guy to guard," Donovan said. "Every time it leaves his hands you think it's going in. I just think when the game gets going up and down, you can get taken out of the game a little bit. He is a great scorer inside of their man offense. But I thought we did a good job with our zone of tracking him and just trying to keep an eye on him. I can't say that it was just one guy. I thought it was a team effort."
The Gators now have a week off before facing one of their toughest road tests of the season. Florida faces second place Arkansas in Fayetteville next Saturday before heading to Knoxville to face Tennessee the following Tuesday.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski
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