GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As if playing a rugged Southeastern Conference opponent on about 36 hours rest wasn’t trying enough, the Florida Gators had three starters, including both frontcourt players, on the bench late in the first half Saturday against Vanderbilt and were forced to roll out a rather unconventional lineup.
Try 6-foot-2 Scottie Wilbekin at the power forward spot.
“Sometimes it just takes guts,” senior point guard Erving Walker said.
UF and Vandy showed plenty, but in the end it was the 12th-ranked Gators who dug deep and made the plays down the stretch, including a perfect 14 of 14 from the free-throw line in the second half, to hold off the 25th-ranked Commodores for a 73-65 victory in front of 11,270 at the O’Connell Center.
Junior guard Kenny Boynton scored 18 points and freshman swingman Bradley Beal shook off a 1-for-5 start to make all but one of his five second-half shots on the way to 16 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. Walker threw in 11 points and five assists, with junior guard Mike Rosario (who also did some minutes at power forward) pitching in 10 first-half points off the bench.
All those numbers helped the Gators (19-4, 7-1) win a seventh in a row — as well as their 19th consecutive at the O’Dome — but it was UF’s defensive energy, particularly in the full-court press, that triggered a key second-half spurt. Forward Will Yeguete, positioned at the top of the press, was his usual disruptive and discombobulating self, tipping balls, harassing ball-handlers and making life miserable for the Commodores, who turned it over 17 times.
“I just feel like any time during the game we’re going to make a run at some time,” said Yeguete, who had eight rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot off the bench. “Our press today helped us make that run.”
Vanderbilt (16-7, 5-3), which lost its second in a row and fell two games behind Florida for second place in the SEC, received a game-high 25 points from forward Jeffery Taylor, but Florida’s ability to make the pace chaotic prevented the Commodores from getting in their disciplined half-court sets. Without them, conference scoring leader John Jenkins, averaging 19.9 points per game, was held to 15 points, his second-lowest output in SEC play this season.