The last time Florida was ranked #1 in basketball was in 2007, when the Gators traveled to Vanderbilt- and promptly got ambushed. In what’s easily their best year since that 2006-2007 season- which ended with a National Championship- the Gators tried their luck against the ‘Dores in their crazy gym once again, and this time came out the winner.
Each game it seems like a different player comes to life to lead this team to victory. Last night it was clearly sophomore F Dorian Finney-Smith, who had 19 points and nine rebounds off the bench. Senior C Patric Young added 12 points and seven boards for Florida, which clinched a share of the conference regular-season title and will win the SEC outright with a win against LSU on Saturday. Dorian Finney-Smith buried a HUGE 3-pointer with 30.6 seconds left as the Gators held on in their first game atop the polls in seven years. Vandy was led by Rod Odom (12 points) and Dai-Jon Parker (11) for the Commodores, who cut a 12-point second-half deficit to two before Finney Smith hit the dagger.
Michael Frazier II knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to cap a 13-0 run as Florida doubled up the Commodores 22-11 with 8 1/2 minutes left in the opening half. Vandy twice cut the deficit to four before Wilbekin buried a fall away jumper to send the Gators to the half ahead 32-25. Finney-Smith scored six in a row to give the Gators their biggest lead at 45-33, but two 3-pointers from Kornet and one from Odom sliced the lead to 48-44 and five straight points by Fuller got Vanderbilt within 54-52 with exactly one minute left. Finney-Smith buried a 3-pointer 30 seconds later, but PG Scottie Wilbekin missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving the Commodores a last-gasp 3-pointer that Fuller missed to give Florida the 57-54 victory.
The Gators are 13-2 in games decided by single digits after losing all six of those games last season, and head coach Billy Donovan said their margin for error is not very big. “We’re not an overly talented team, we’re just not,” Donovan said. “And what these guys have done up to this point in time it really has been pretty remarkable in my opinion. They’ve done a really good job. But I think sometimes when you see a team with a high ranking you think dominance, you think they just blow everybody out. That’s not what we are or who we are.”
The win ensures the Gators at least a share of the SEC crown. Florida is three games ahead of Kentucky in the loss column, and can clinch it outright with a Kentucky loss tomorrow night or by beating LSU on Saturday at the Stephen C. O’ Connell Center. The game will air at 4:00 on CBS.