UF hits road to face 'Dores


Guard Bradley Beal said the Gators felt a sense of urgency in practices this week.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 27, 2012 at 10:48 p.m.

Florida can wrap up the second overall seed in next week's Southeastern Conference Tournament with a win tonight at Vanderbilt.

To achieve that, the Gators will need more intensity on the defensive end of the floor after their lackluster showing over the weekend at Georgia.

Defense and leadership are the main concerns of Florida coach Billy Donovan heading down a critical final stretch of the regular season. After tonight's game against Vanderbilt, Florida finishes up Sunday at home against No. 1 Kentucky.

“There's no question the next two games that we're playing are very difficult and very challenging,” Donovan said. “We could play really, really well against both of those two teams and not win.”

That would send the Gators into a three-game losing streak going in the SEC Tournament, its longest slide since the end of the 2009-10 regular season. The Gators still wouldn't fall to a seed lower than fourth and are assured of a first-round bye in New Orleans.

Florida dropped four spots to No. 16 in this week's AP poll following its 76-62 loss at Georgia. The Gators allowed the Bulldogs to shoot 52.9 percent from the floor, giving up several wide-open dunks and layups.

“I didn't think we were aggressive enough, on edge, urgency ... whatever it may be that we did not defend like we needed to defend,” Donovan said.

Now, the challenge is to find that edge on the road against one of the best offensive teams in the SEC. Vanderbilt ranks third in the SEC in scoring at 73.9 points per game. The Commodores feature two of the top three scorers in the SEC — shooting guard John Jenkins (first at 20 ppg) and small forward Jeffery Taylor (tied for second at 17.3 ppg). Taylor scored 25 points against the Gators in the first meeting between the two schools, a 73-65 Florida win.

“That's going to be one of our biggest challenges since the first game, because those guys are so great at scoring,” said Florida freshman guard Bradley Beal. “Their whole team, they are so good at using screens and creating offense off of those screens.”

Donovan said he would also like to see his team huddle up more during dead ball situations, such as before free throws. Because senior point guard Erving Walker has been hesitant to do that, Donovan said he will look for other players to step into that role, such as Beal and sophomore point guard Scottie Wilbekin.

“The way the (Georgia) game was going, we needed to make some changes to try to get some kind of passion injected into our team,” Donovan said. “I think Patric Young is starving for that. I think Brad Beal is starving for that. I think (Erik) Murphy is starving for that. I think our team is starving for that. We don't have that.”

Beal said he's comfortable stepping into a leadership role if needed.

“It's just being more vocal,” Beal said. “We're talking on the floor all of the time anyway. On top of that, I'm really cool with all of the guys and I know everybody so I feel more comfortable doing that.”

Beal said the Gators felt a sense of urgency in practice coming into an important week off the loss at Georgia.

“This is probably the toughest challenge we've faced all year because these are two of the best teams in our conference and two of the most versatile teams in our conference as well,” Beal said. “Because they have guys who can score and defend as well.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com

Who: No. 16 Florida Gators (22-7, 10-4 SEC) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (20-9, 9-5 SEC)

When: 9 p.m.

Where: Memorial Gym, Nashville, Tenn.

Gainesville TV: ESPN

Gainesville radio: 103.7 FM

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Jr. 17.3 ppg, 2.6 apg

G Erving Walker 5-8 Sr. 12.5 ppg, 4.8 apg

G Bradley Beal 6-3 Fr. 14.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg

F Erik Murphy 6-10 Jr. 9.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg

C Patric Young 6-9 So. 10.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg

VANDERBILT PROBABLE STARTERS

G John Jenkins 6-4 Jr. 20.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg

G Brad Tinsley 6-3 Sr. 8.9 ppg, 4.3 apg

F Jeffery Taylor 6-7 Sr. 17.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg

F Lance Goulbourne 6-8 Sr. 8.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg

C Festus Ezeli 6-11 Sr. 10.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg

Notes: Florida is 60-63 all-time against Vanderbilt and 22-11 against Vanderbilt under Billy Donovan. … The Gators lead the SEC with 15.2 assists per game and a 1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. … Florida leads the SEC and the nation in 3-pointers made at 10.1 per game. The Gators have made 10 or more 3-pointers in 19 of 29 games this season. … Vanderbilt is coming off an 83-74 loss at Kentucky. … The Commodores lead the SEC in 3-point field goal percentage at 39.8 percent. … Florida is 4-6 on the road this season .

Three things to watch

1. Boynton vs. Jenkins

Once again, Florida junior guard Kenny Boynton and Vanderbilt junior John Jenkins will square off in a matchup of top SEC shooting guards. Boynton got the better of Jenkins in the first meeting, scoring 18 points to Jenkins' 15 points. Look for Boynton to stay with Jenkins outside the 3-point line and try to disrupt his shots from long range. Jenkins leads the SEC in scoring at 20 ppg while Boynton is tied with Vanderbilt's Jeffery Taylor for second in scoring at 17.3 ppg.

2. Florida's press

A big reason why the Gators beat Vanderbilt 73-65 in the first meeting between the the schools was because of Florida's ability to generate points off its press. The Gators scored 19 points off turnovers. But with forward Will Yeguete out for the season and no longer at the front of the press, it may be tougher for the Gators to force turnovers this time around.

“Most teams handle pressure a lot better at home than they do on the road,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “The press was really, really good here, but make no mistake about it, the press started in a lot of ways with Will. He had a huge impact in the game in the press. Whether or not we can get the same result out of the press in Nashville as we did here in Gainesville, I don't know. It will be something that we will definitely look at and definitely do, but I would imagine that would be something that Vanderbilt would be working on, focused on.”

3. Staying out of foul trouble

Patric Young and Erik Murphy each picked up two first-half fouls in UF's first meeting with Vanderbilt. Young was never a factor in the game facing 255-pound Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli. With Will Yeguete out, Florida is still limited up front and can't afford for Young and Murphy to get into any foul trouble. “I'm just going to have to play smart,” Young said. “With Will out, I definitely cannot afford to get into foul trouble. We lack the depth. If we have to go smaller against arguably one of the biggest teams in our conference, it would really be unfortunate.”

Three questions

1.Can Kenny Boynton stay with John Jenkins defensively and alter his shots?

2. Can the Gators be as effective generating points off the press as they were in their first meeting with Vanderbilt?

3. Can Patric Young stay out of foul trouble and be productive for the Gators inside?

Go to Gatorsports.com after the game for Kevin Brockway's answers.

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