Originally created 01/14/02

Gators ready to keep adding to best start in school history



NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Florida Gators know that they must keep winning to reach their lofty goals for this season. The Vanderbilt Commodores could use some help remembering just how to beat a Southeastern Conference team.

Matt Bonner scored 20 of his 28 points in the first half and led five Gators in double figures as No. 3 Florida beat Vanderbilt 95-85 Saturday to improve on its best start in school history with a 13th straight victory.

The victory allowed Florida (14-1, 3-0) to sweep both Tennessee and Vanderbilt on the road in consecutive games for the second straight year and only the fourth time in school history.

Playing away from home makes it easy for players to get lackadaisical with so many fans cheering against them. Bonner said the Gators take the approach of turning toward each other and treating each game very special.

"We just try to look at it like every game's a national championship. We need every game. We need to win every game in order to win the SEC championship and reach our goal of getting a No. 1 seed at the end of the season," he said.

For Vanderbilt (10-6, 0-3), the program has reached a low point with a 12th straight league loss dating back to last season. The Commodores topped the 11-game losing skid of C.M. Newton's team in 1984-1985 with the loss to Florida.

It's not a topic coach Kevin Stallings likes talking about much. He is in his third season, trying to turn around a program that hasn't finished better than fourth in the SEC East in the past seven years.

"I don't derive anything from losing," Stallings said. "I don't care who you are or who you play. The only thing you learn from losing is how to lose."

The Commodores lost their first two SEC games on the road, and returning home to Memorial Gym where they had dominated their series with Florida didn't help.

Florida outrebounded Vandy 43-20 and outshot the Commodores 55 percent (29-of-52) to 44 percent. The Commodores kept it close for the first few minutes and were tied at 19 before Bonner got going to gave Florida a 46-29 lead at halftime.

Gators point guard Justin Hamilton dislocated his right shoulder early in the second half, and Vanderbilt finally got going.

Vandy trailed 64-39 when Brendan Plavich started a 22-7 run with one of his six 3-pointers at 14:51 of the second half, and Scott Hundley's three-point play pulled the Commodores within 71-61 midway through the half.

The Commodores forced 12 of Florida's 21 turnovers in the second half, with Jason Holwerda coming up with four of eight steals.

"We were a sieve the way they were going by us," Donovan said.

The Commodores pulled within 75-67 on a 3-pointer by Matt Freije with 6:57 to go, but that was as close as they would get as the Gators went 12-for-16 from the line over the final 5:30.

"They're too good a team to think you're going to come back on them when they have a big lead," Stallings said.

Brett Nelson scored 20 points for Florida before fouling out in the final minute. David Lee had 11 and James White and Udonis Haslem each had 10.

Considering his Gators hadn't gotten back to Gainesville until early Thursday morning after an overtime victory at Tennessee the night before, Florida coach Billy Donovan appreciated the way they found a way to win a game that tipped off at 1 p.m. EST Saturday.

"We realize we were very, very fortunate to win. Anytime you win in this place you always feel good," he said.

Florida will play LSU in Gainesville on Wednesday night. Donovan said he hopes Hamilton will be available Saturday against Georgia.