Involved in yet another dogfight on Tuesday evening, the No. 1 Florida Gators (26-2, 15-0 SEC) once again prevailed by holding on for a 57-54 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores (15-12, 7-8 SEC) on the road at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, TN.
Florida clinched at least a share of the 2014 SEC regular-season title, extended its school-record winning streak to 20 games and continued a number of other program-best marks including winning 15 SEC games in a single season. UF also improved to 13-2 this campaign in single-digit decisions (0-6 last year) and 10-2 in true road games.
OnlyGators.com breaks it all down with seven quick-hitters:
It was over when / perfect play: Redshirt sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith, with Florida up two and the shot clock winding down, drained a dagger three-pointer to put the Gators up five with 30.9 seconds to play. “When he starts to make some shots, it will open up some other things for his game,” said head coach Billy Donovan. “He had really good looks tonight. … We had to shoot the ball over the top. … Obviously that was a big shot up by two.”
Prominent player: Finney busted out of his slump with gusto, hitting 6-of-11 shots off the bench for a game-high 19 points. He also grabbed a game-high nine boards and filled in a lot of the holes left by senior F Casey Prather, who is still hobbled by ankle and knee injuries. Finney-Smith was 1-for-23 from downtown in his previous five games dating back to Feb. 1 but hit 3-of-6 triples on Tuesday evening. Prather went just 1-for-5 with two points but grabbed six boards, registered four steals and dished three assists.
Significant stretch: Trailing 11-9 early in the first half, Florida broke out with a 13-0 run – including back-to-back threes from sophomore guard Michael Frazier II – and took a 22-11 lead with 8:35 to go until halftime. A 6-0 response by Vanderbilt knocked the visitors back a peg, but UF closed the half with a last-second fadeaway jumper by senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin to lead by seven at the break. Frazier (nine points) went just 2-for-7 from three but grabbed six boards on the evening. Wilbekin (seven points) made only 3-of-10 baskets (1-for-6 from deep) but contributed five assists.
Check out the second half of The Fastbreak…after the break.
(Another) perfect play: Senior center Patric Young missed a poorly-shot layup midway through the first half but followed the shot and grabbed his own offensive rebound with authority. After pulling it down, he made a reverse layup with only his right hand, hooking the ball under the basket to complete the impressive play. Young scored 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting with seven rebounds (six offensive).
Standout stat: Averaging 32.2 percent from beyond the arc this season, Vanderbilt hit eight of its first 16 attempts from three, keeping the game closer than it should have been. The Commodores missed their last two attempts from beyond the arc, however, which contributed to the Gators’ ability to hold on for the victory. VU became the third-straight team to hit eight or more threes against UF. “Vanderbilt did a great job. They gave themselves every opportunity in the game and put themselves in position to win,” Donovan said.
What it means: In addition to clinching a share of the SEC regular-season title and extending its winning streak, Florida has now won 25 of its last 26 games. UF also improved to 13-2 in single-digit decisions and 10-2 in true road games. At 15-0, the Gators are also off to their best start in SEC play. UF has now won a program-record eight-straight SEC road games and improved to 77-9 since the beginning of the 2011-12 season when holding an opponent under 71 points in a game.
Next up: The Gators return to Gainesville, FL, where they will play two of their remaining three conference games, to host LSU on Saturday at 4 p.m. Florida can clinch the outright 2014 SEC Championship and earn the No. 1 overall seed in the 2014 SEC Tourament with a victory in the game, which will air live on CBS.
“We’ve had four of our last five games on the road,” Donovan said. “It’s been a five-game grind for our basketball team where you’re getting everybody’s best shot. And then emotionally you’re trying to get yourselves up to play at that level.”