Gators deliver birthday present


January 22, 2006 --Gainesville, Fla. -- Florida Women's basketball coach Carolyn Peck cheers on her team as they come from an eight-point half-time deficit to defeat Vanderbilt 73-59 in the O'Connell Center, Sunday, January 22, 2006. Sunday was Coach Peck's 40th birthday.

BRIANA BROUGH/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 23, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 23, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
The paint scribbled on the windows of Carolyn Peck's Chevrolet Yukon on Sunday morning said it all.
Carolyn Peck. Forty and fine. Florida's players painted those words on Peck's car early Sunday morning in celebration of their head coach's 40th birthday. That was just the beginning. Her players had many, many more birthday surprises left in store.
The most important, of course, was the 73-59 victory the Gators delivered over No. 19 Vanderbilt Sunday afternoon in the O'Connell Center.
Reserves Marshae Dotson and Kim Dye recorded career-highs of 17 and 15 points, respectively, helping Florida erase an eight-point halftime deficit. The Gators won for the second straight time and improved to 15-3 and 3-2 in the SEC.
"I don't know any other way I would have rather spent my birthday," Peck said afterward. "These kids are really special."
Thoughtful, too. Several players snuck into Peck's office late Saturday night and again early Sunday morning to decorate it with dozens of balloons and posters. The team even gave their head coach a tiara, a birthday sash and the aforementioned message on her car.
"My players gave me a great birthday," Peck said.
But it also came with a little anxiety. The Gators trailed 34-26 at halftime after shooting just 25 percent in the first half. It was Florida's seventh consecutive halftime deficit.
But like most of the season, the Gators erupted in the second half. The Gators used a pair of 9-0 runs to outscore the Commodores 47-25 after intermission. Florida has now come back from a second-half deficit to win 10 of its 15 games this season.
"I think when we play with a lot more energy and intensity we play better," said guard Danielle Santos, who was the only starter in double digits with 10 points. "We're working to get better at doing that in the first half."
At halftime, Peck talked to the team about the crowd of 2,813 in attendance and trying to play with an intensity to excite them. It worked.
The Gators ripped off a 9-0 run in the first 2:11 of the second half to take a 35-34 lead on a Santos 3-pointer, one of six made by Florida in the second half. Santos' shot forced a Vandy timeout and brought the crowd, and the Gators, to life.
"The first two minutes of the second half were key to taking control of the game," Peck said.
Freshman Sha Brooks showed signs of breaking out of her shooting funk when she ended an 0-for-16 slump from the field with a pair of field goals early in the second half. Dotson then took over by scoring six points in Florida's second 9-0 run. Dotson capped the spurt by sinking a field goal to put the Gators ahead 52-45 with 8:03 left.
It was the second straight double-figure game for Dotson, a freshman.
"I've loosened up a little bit and learned to trust my teammates," said Dotson, who was 5-for-5 shooting.
Dye then buried the Commodores by putting Florida ahead 57-47 with a 3-pointer with 6:05 left and another to increase the lead to 65-49 with 3:30 left.
Dye finished 5-for-7 from behind the 3-point line.
"We just kept our confidence and kept shooting the ball," Dye said.
Florida improved to 2-1 against ranked opponents this season. The decisive victory could knock Vanderbilt out of the Associated Press Top 25 today and move the Gators in.
The Commodores (13-6, 2-3) lost for the second time in a week following Thursday's 80-68 defeat against No. 1 Tennessee in Nashville. The Commodores got 17 points from guard Caroline Williams and 13 off the bench from Nicole Jules.
You can reach Brandon Zimmerman by calling 374-5051 or by e-mail at zimmerb@gvillesun.com.

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