Vandy spoils UF's chance to top East, 86-72
Published: Sunday, January 18, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 18, 2004 at 12:51 a.m.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - First place will have to wait another day.
No. 15 Florida came into the night with a chance to claim sole possession of first in the East division of the Southeastern Conference. It left humbled following a 86-72 loss at No. 23 Vanderbilt that exposed weaknesses exploited by Maryland and Louisville before the conference season began.
"I wouldn't say it was a regression," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I think it's just an understanding that when you go on the road that you have to sustain a high level of play. We had pockets of intensity, but we couldn't sustain it."
Vandy students stormed the court after the win, its first against Florida at home since 2000. Students knocked inflatable alligators into the sky as they huddled near the midcourt circle.
The loss snapped Florida's modest six-game winning streak and dropped its conference record to 2-1. Florida (11-3) had a chance to take sole possession of first in the SEC East after Georgia stunned Kentucky at Rupp Arena earlier in the afternoon, ending Kentucky's conference winning streak at 21 games.
Vanderbilt forward Matt Frieje broke out of a two-game scoring slump with 23 points, but got plenty of help in the second half from forward Corey Smith and point guard Mario Moore. Smith finished with14 points and six assists and Moore finished with 21points,
Smith scored six of his 14 during a 16-3 second half run, when Florida went cold from the perimeter and let up on the defense end. A 44-40 Florida lead quickly disappeared. A three-point play by Smith put Vandy up 50-44, and Vandy increased the lead to 56-47 on a layup by super-sub Scott Hundley with 10:56 remaining.
"A couple of times we trapped too far into the court, and that gave them some open looks," Donovan said. "Again, that goes back to intensity and our young players on the road having to get used to different situations."
Florida never could get back in the game. Vandy poured it on with more offense, this time courtesy of Moore, who found Julian Terrell on a beautiful behind-the-back pass for a Terrell layup. Moore then hit a 3-pointer to put Vandy up 64-50, and the rout was on.
Florida's 24 turnovers led to 28 Vanderbilt points.
"Anytime you turn the ball over on the road that many times, you're going to lose," Donovan said.
Matt Walsh led Florida with 16, but not without constant houdning from the crowd.
Walsh became public enemy No. 1, after his hard intentional foul on Smith with 17:32 left in the second half. Walsh body-checked Smith from behind as he went in for an uncontested layup, drawing the ire of the sellout 14,168 who packed Memorial Gym. Fans in the student section began chanting "Walsh you (rhymes with truck)."
"There are no easy layups," Walsh said. "I wasn't trying to hurt him. It was on the road, and I was just trying to do something to get my team going.
Freije sparked an 11-0 run in the first half by scoring seven of the points on a 3-pointer and a rare four-point play. After tying the score at 16 on an open 3, he made another 3 as Adrian Moss bowled him over, and converted the free throw to put the Commodores up 22-16.
Vanderbilt extended its lead to 29-20 on a 3-pointer by Mario Morre. Florida stormed back with shots from long range. Lee Humphrey, Mohamed Abukar and Anthony Roberson hit 3-pointers on consecutive trips down the floor to put Florida up 31-29.
Freije sank two free throws to tie the score at 31. Florida forward David Lee made one of two free throws with 1:02 remaining. Both teams turned the ball over on ensuing possessions. After Moore missed a running 12-footer with 6.1 seconds left, Florida called time out. But Humphrey missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer, and Florida went into halftime up 32-31.
Lee added 15 points for Florida and Roberson scored 13.Freshman Chris Richard scored 12 points off the bench. Florida will have three days to regroup before its home game Wednesday against Mississippi State, which improved to 3-1 in the SEC West with a win at LSU. South Carolina, at 3-1, is first in the SEC East. All 12 teams now have at least one loss in conference play. "We knew we had a chance to get first place in the SEC East and we couldn't get the job done," Walsh said. "I give Vanderbilt all the credit. They played a phenomenal game. "We just didn't come out and play the way you need to come out and play on the road."
You can reach Kevin Brockway at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 374-5054.
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