Like many of the SEC schools, at Florida the Gators are introduced into a darkened gym with spotlights highlighting their entrance..
The Gators led for the first few minutes of the game, then the Commodores went ahead. When sophomore post Carla Thomas scored her 15th point of the first half, Vanderbilt led by 14 points with 1:37 left. But two Florida 3-pointers in the time left cut the Commodores' halftime lead to eight points at 39-31.
In the second half, when the Florida defense adjusted to contain Thomas, senior forward Ashley Earley took over, scoring 15 second half points. Vanderbilt continued to lead, and with 12:37 in the game, the lead grew to 14 points at 55-41.
But Florida chipped away at the lead, and when Sarah Lowe got the fastbreak layup and the foul to cut the lead to 62-58 with 5:11 left, the crowd erupted and Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb called timeout.
After the timeout, Lowe sank the free throw to cut the lead to 62-59, and things were looking good for the Gators.
But the Commodores kept their cool - at least for the moment. After the lead was cut to three points, Thomas grabbed an offensive rebound and scored, sophomore guard Caroline Williams got a big steal, which led to two points on a baseline drive by senior guard Abi Ramsey.
Then, the game came down to free throws. After sophomore point guard Dee Davis hit her sixth free throw in a span of less than a minute, Vanderbilt led by eight points at 72-64 with 1:34 left.
But just when it looked as if the fat lady might be tuning up in the tunnel, a couple of Vanderbilt fouls and turnovers gave the Gators the chance to get back into the game. With 58 seconds left, once again the Commodores held only a slim 3-point lead at 72-60.
Thomas was fouled and went to the free throw line, where she sank both free throws to give the Commodores a 5-point cushion with 29 seconds left. On the other end of the court, Earley blocked Lowe's shot, and sophomore guard Katie Antony grabbed the defensive rebound.
With one eye on the clock and one of the court, the Vanderbilt bench and fans watched with bated breath.
Then finally with 13 seconds left and Vanderbilt leading 74-69, the Gators sent Davis to the line again, where she sank both free throws. On the other end of the court, Ramsey pulled down the defensive rebound of a missed 3-point attempt by Florida's Tamia Williams to seal the 76-69 victory.
After the game, family, friends and fans greeted the players as they left the gym to board the bus. Caroline Williams and Katie Antony posed with Caroline's parents.
Ashley Earley, Erica Grimaldi, Katie Eggers, and Cherish Stringfield, posed for a photo, too.
Some of Dee's family, including her aunt from Tampa, posed for a family photo. Dee was a perfect 10 for 10 from the free throw line for the game, including 8 for 8 in the final three minutes. Perhaps the bag of ice explains the ice water in her veins.
Photos copyright 2005 by Whitney D. for Vandymania.com.