Key road test for surging Gators
No doubt Vanderbilt is looking for some payback after losing to Florida earlier this season.
Published: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 12:56 a.m.
If Florida's women's basketball team is looking to become a serious contender in the Southeastern Conference this season - a thought that would have seemed laughable a year ago - today's game at No. 24 Vanderbilt is crucial.
The Gators (14-5, 4-2 SEC) and Commodores (16-3, 4-2) sit tied for third in the SEC with Auburn (4-2), a half game behind second-place LSU (4-1) and two games behind first-place Tennessee (6-0).
The Gators are riding a three-game win streak which began with an upset at Georgia two weeks ago and continued with home wins over South Carolina and Alabama.
Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has won 13 straight at home - the sixth-longest streak in the country. Since losing 67-61 at Florida Jan. 11, the Commodores have won two of three with their only loss coming at No. 1 Tennessee.
The Gators will see a different Vanderbilt team today, as Commodores' second-leading scorer Jenni Benningfield has returned from an ankle injury that limited her to just six minutes in the first meeting with the Gators. Benningfield, a senior forward, scored 16 points in a 74-69 win at Arkansas Thursday.
"I think we're going to prepare for Vanderbilt the same way," Florida point guard Tishona Gregory said. "We're not really thinking about how Vanderbilt is going to play, we're more worried about what we're doing."
What the Gators have been doing is closing out games down the stretch. In each of Florida's last three games, the Gators have fended off strong runs in the second half. That is becoming a trait Florida didn't have earlier in the season. Florida wasted second-half leads in their first four losses of the season.
"You can attribute that to a couple of things," coach Carolyn Peck said. "Good leadership and a big presence by our post players. Also, our guards are playing more aggressive."
The Gators' 76-69 win over Alabama on Thursday showed just how well the Gators' guards are playing. Florida turned the ball over just three times in the win, showing how far they've come since last year's 9-19 season.
"This team is competing right now," Peck said. "They continue to impress me."
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