Defense helps UF overcome bad basketball

Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

For a half Vanderbilt showed how it won in Lexington and Baton Rouge, how it moved into the Top 25, how the Commodores are not your father's Vanderbilt.

They showed athleticism and the ability to score points without the 3-point shot that has become as synonymous with Vandy basketball as country music is with Nashville. They defended and executed and played with poise.

And then for a half, Florida showed how it won a national championship last year.

It wasn't one guy, but one team. It was Lee Humphrey for 3 and Joakim Noah and Al Horford inside.

But mostly, it was defense.

"Coach told us that it wasn't our offense that was killing us but our defense," point guard Taurean Green said. "We weren't communicating."

Well, actually, it was both. A combination of bad execution, bad shot selection and bad luck (how many shots rimmed out?) left Florida with only 30 points at the half. Billy Donovan said his team was lucky to only be down 11, but you knew the run was coming in the second half.

If ...

If the Gators bowed up on the defensive end in a game that was thick with frustration. Donovan said the Gators' offensive success fueled the defense but the same argument could be made the other way around.

All I know is that Vanderbilt scored 23 points in the second half, which was 10 too few as Florida went to 7-0 in the SEC this season and 7-0 in its last seven games against Vandy.

"We'll have to play a lot better if we are ever going to beat them," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said.

It was there for a half. While the Florida fans let the officials have it with throaty disapproval, the real problem for UF wasn't bad calls but bad basketball. Florida did an excellent job of taking away the 3-point line, but that opened up things elsewhere on the floor.

And because Florida didn't have anyone who could guard Derrick Byars in the first half, things looked pretty ugly for the No. 1 team in the country.

But right from the start of the second half, you could see the difference. It wasn't a fiery halftime speech. As far as we know, the paint is still on the walls in the Gator locker room.

"I'd love to have heard your comments at halftime," Donovan said to the media after his post-game news conference.

Not really. We were as surprised as anyone to see this team struggle at home. But it was also evident that this Vanderbilt team was for real. It was a physical game and these Commodores brought muscle to the party.

"My back is so sore," Noah said. "(Dan) Cage was elbowing me in the back the whole game."

The officiating crew tried to let the boys play, but also put up with only so much feedback, which came with almost every call/no-call. Five technicals were called and more could have been. A Vanderbilt assistant — King Rice — was tossed from the bench. There were 36 fouls called, which was about 100 fewer than were actually committed.

But with all of this going on during a wild and crazy night in the O-Dome, the feeding frenzy began.

Vandy's ball to start the half — a missed shot.

"A key possession was that first possession of the second half," Donovan said. "We got a stop."

Defense turned into offense then back into defense. A technical on Green didn't hurt because Cage missed both free throws, allowing Florida to keep the run alive.

"In the second half," Donovan said, "we really defended."

During the first eight minutes of the second half, Florida outscored Vanderbilt by 20. The shot selection, the execution, it was back as if it never left.

And the defense changed the way the game was being played.

"It was a new half," said Horford.

But the same old team.

Contact Pat Dooley at 374-5053 or's columns appear Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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