Florida basketball: 3 takeaways from UF's loss to Vanderbilt

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun

Florida basketball returned to Gainesville Saturday afternoon, but home hardwood didn't cure its recent struggles on defense.

The Gators allowed Vanderbilt to score early and too often in an 88-80 loss to the Commodores before an announced sellout of 10,024 at the O'Connell Center.

Vanderbilt made its first six shots from the floor and raced to a 22-14 lead before Florida cut the lead to 42-41 at halftime. In the second half, Florida led by as many as four points, 58-54, with Will Richard on the free-throw line. But Richard, an 88.9% shooter at the line, missed two straight.

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That's when the momentum turned. Down 61-58, Vanderbilt regained the lead with a 7-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer from center Liam Robbins that put the Commodores up 65-61. Robbins made another big 3-pointer to put Vanderbilt up 78-69 with 2:47 left to create the separation needed to secure the win.

The Gators (13-12, 6-6 SEC) have given up an average of 85.7 points during their current three-game losing streak.

"Our strength has been our defense," Florida coach Todd Golden said. "That's what I challenged our team about after the game. We've been good when we guard. If we don't have that we're going to have to rely on some things that are going to be inconsistent, and our defense has to be consistent for us."

Vanderbilt (13-12, 6-6 SEC) snapped a nine-game losing streak to Florida dating back to the 2019 season.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Vanderbilt C Robbins outplays Florida C Castleton in battle of the bigs

The 7-foot Robbins had 32 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, including three blocks against Castleton. He scored inside, outside and from the free-throw line, going 10-of-18 from the field, 3-of-4 from 3-point range and 9-of-11 from the free-throw line.

Florida coach Todd Golden, shown during last week's game against Alabama, was not happy with the UF defense against Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse said Robbins has been playing at a high level since returning from injury in late January.

"He's finally feeling healthy and confident," Stackhouse said. "He's still playing at an extremely high level and when he's playing that way it's a big boost for our team but he's been here and rightfully so. Castleton is a heck of a player he's known for being one of the best shot-blockers and best players in the league and I think Liam took that as a challenge."

Castleton ended up with 25 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks, but had issues containing Robbins at the other end of the floor.

"He was just making shots," Castleton said. "I feel like he’s a skilled big as well and was getting good looks and making them. You have to give credit to them. They put him in good spots, and he was able to make a couple good moves but he was able to make shots, that was the biggest thing."

With the two blocks, Castleton moved into sole possession of third place on Florida's all-time blocked shot list (191) passing Al Horford.

Gators struggle guarding and making 3s

Vanderbilt won the game at the 3-point line, making 12-of-23 (52.2%) beyond the arc, compared to 2-of-20 from Florida (10%).

Starting guard Trey Thomas went a perfect 4-of-4 from 3-point range for Vanderbilt, with Robbins going 3-for-4. Florida has surrendered 27 3-pointers in its last two games.

"We were really bad at executing things that are really important to our team, to our program," Golden said. "A huge part of that was our inability to defend the three-point line today and that’s something that, as long as I’m the coach, is going to be a huge emphasis of our program."

Asked about the recent breakdown in 3-point defense, Golden responded: "Engagement, mental engagement was a big issue today. Some things whether it was baseline out of bounds or not getting to shooters quick enough, not locking in on personnel was probably a big part of that.”

Sophomore swingman Kowacie Reeves (14 points off the bench) was the only player on Florida's roster to make a 3-pointer. Freshman guard Riley Kugel went 0-of-4 and Richard air-balled his lone 3-point attempt in the second half.

A bad day at the foul line

Florida entered the game against Vanderbilt shooting 74% from the foul line for the season. But the Gators were unable to convert at the line in big spots in the second half, going 60.9% from the line (14-23) for the game.

Castleton went 5-of-9 from the line and Richard was just 1-of-3 from the charity stripe.