Gators Slam the Dores

The Florida Gators used a great defensive start along with marksman like shooting to topple the Vanderbilt Commodores at home in front of 12,543 at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. The Gators won the game 82-68 keeping them in a tie with Kentucky for the lead in the SEC Eastern Division. Head coach Billy Donovan was happy with the win, but knows his team still needs to get better.

The Gators opened up a big 10-point lead eight minutes into the game as Vanderbilt scored just two points in those first eight minutes. A 1-for-12 start from the field by the Dores and the Gators were off to the races. The Commodores second basket made the score 12-4 and that was as close as it would get for the rest of the day.

Florida's defense was big in the game and there was probably no better testament that a two block possession by freshman center Kenny Kadji. Kadji, going against All-SEC center A.J. Ogilvy, stood his ground at the defensive end and blocked two shots by Ogilvy in a span of seconds. The second block landed in the arms of a teammate and the ball headed in the other direction. A missed shot at the other end and Kadji got the rebound and put the ball in the basket for one of his seven points in the game. He finished with four blocked shots on the night.

Donovan loved the episode by Kadji and cannot wait until Kadji gets to a point where that becomes regular play for the young freshman.

"One of the things from a coaching perspective that is so challenging about the five to six minutes you saw there (from Kadji), one day we see it, the next day we don't…the next day we do," Donovan said after the game. "As much as I want to fast forward the process, I try to expose him as much as I can every day for who he wants to be. He has to get better in identifying in making a decision of who he wants to be. He has a side of him that needs to be more focused, alert, and attentive.

Donovan reluctantly referred to the post players from the Gators recent national championship team in terms of their ability to stay focused on the court. Al Horford and Joakim Noah always came to the game in a zone.

"That is what made Horford and Noah so great," Donovan said. "They had the edginess, focus, and competitiveness, they never had those moments. I think Kenny is very competitive, but his biggest challenge is fatigue. When he gets fatigued, everything falls by the wayside. The biggest challenge is can he play for longer stretches and keep putting him in and use hi on a regular rotation. I thought he was very good for us in the first half."

The Gators got to as much as a 26-point lead just a little more than three minutes into the second half. However, a few haphazard plays saw that lead dwindle to as little as a dozen. These are the things that Donovan feels he needs to dwell on as the Gators head down the home stretch of the season.

"As a coach you always try and show them things you can get better at," he said. "Plays like we are up 17 points and Walter misses a three the ball comes back to him and charges a guy and we had a full shot clock, Dan Werner fouls a three point shooter, Nick Calathes throws a one handed pass on a break. There are things we have to do like that we have to clean up. One thing you want to do when you are on a roll like that, you don't want to break your own momentum. You want to force the other team to break that momentum. I thought our guys played hard and competed, but we need to start growing in some of the areas that we have control over."

The Gators had five players in double digits on the night led by freshman guard Erving Walker's 17 points. Nick Calathes added 14, Walter Hodge 12, Dan Werner 11, and Alex Tyus had 10 points. This is what the offense is supposed to look like night in and out according to Donovan who's Gators shot 61.2 percent from the field.

"The way we play, when guys are open we like for them to take shots that are there within the frame of our offense," Donovan said.

One guy that has really stepped up this season is Walker. The 5-8 guard looks like he would be such a liability on the court with his size, but Donovan knows there is a special make up with his little play maker.

"I was concerned as a coach recruiting a guy that small," Donovan said of Walker. "There are a lot of things he has to get better at. He comes ready to play and he is competitive. He's had some moments where he has been up and down, but for the most part he isn't afraid to take big shots and not afraid to get on the free throw line. I've got confidence in him. He has a deep internal confidence and does not get rattled very much."

Junior forward Dan Werner has been much maligned by the fans as of late. The "bring your lunch pail" type worker doesn't show up much in the stats book in order to substantiate praise, but on Saturday he was perfect from the field. Donovan believes there may be a light coming on for his junior starting forward as well.

"Dan played very well and when he and Chandler (Parsons) shoot well it changes the complexion of our team," Donovan said. "…He is a great facilitator of the ball. He made a big shot…they were making a run and Dan and Erving Walker made back to back threes that I thought were very big in terms of breaking momentum. We got down to a 14 point lead and then those two three's put it right back to 20. Dan has invested a lot more time in the gym in the last few days, maybe more than he has up until this point in time. Maybe he can see the fruit of his hard work. Him shooting the ball and making three (three-point shots) was definitely big for us.

The Gators are now 21-6, 8-4 in the SEC and tied for the lead in the SEC East. They travel to Baton Rouge Tuesday to take on the SEC leading LSU Tigers at 9 p.m. Donovan saw a lot from his team on Saturday, but he knows there is a lot still to improve on before the season is done.

"I think we can get better," Donovan said. "They are playing hard and giving good effort. They still have to get better. Kenny Kadji being an every day guy, Nick understanding that every possession is critical, (everyone) gabbing key rebounds, needing to understand we need to make winning plays, how do you channel momentum and how do you not give it away. I still think there is a level of winning that they don't see and that is where they have to get better."


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