Florida-Vanderbilt Preview

A week ago, Florida beat Vanderbilt to clinch its first SEC

regular-season title in four years.

Another win over the Commodores and the Gators get a shot at

winning their first conference tournament in the same span.

The top-seeded and 12th-ranked Gators look for a third straight

win over the Commodores this season when they meet in a semifinal

Saturday at the Georgia Dome.

For the first time since going on to capture the second of

back-to-back NCAA championships in 2007, Florida (25-6) won the SEC

regular-season title. The Gators did so, 86-76 at then-No. 21

Vanderbilt last Saturday to close the regular season.

That victory was a crowning achievement for a program that has

had to rebuild itself and return to the national spotlight it once

owned with the likes of current NBA stars Joakim Noah and Al

Horford in the mix.

The Gators won three consecutive SEC tournament championships

from 2005-2007.

“We don’t have three players going in the lottery this year, so

it was a totally different team,” coach Billy Donovan said. “This

has been really, really as rewarding as any team I’ve had to coach

because of where they’ve come from.

“They understand that the goal is to try to play on Sunday. And

I think they understand what we’re playing for.”

Being within one game of playing for an SEC tournament title is

another step in the Gators’ progression. However, they are not

about to look ahead, but would rather make the most of the

moment.

“And any time you go win in this league in a tournament like

this, it’s always a good feeling, and to go to the semifinals,

we’re happy with that,” said guard Erving Walker, who had a

team-high 22 points in Friday’s 85-74 quarterfinal win over

Tennessee. “This is huge.”

Led by Walker, all five Florida players tallied double figures

as the Gators outscored Tennessee 56-40 in the second half and shot

58.7 percent for the game.

Guard Kenny Boynton, who had 22 points against the Volunteers,

has averaged 16.8 in four career games versus Vanderbilt (23-9),

which is in the semifinals for the second straight season.

After missing the Commodores’ 62-50 first-round win over LSU

with a sore foot, SEC scoring leader John Jenkins had 29 points in

Friday’s 87-81 victory over Mississippi State.

Jenkins (19.8 points per game) had 22 points in both meetings

with Florida this season. He led all scorers in the teams’ most

recent contest, but could not help the Commodores win despite

shooting 59.2 percent at home.

Getting a second chance at the Gators is something the sophomore

guard and his teammates have been hoping would come this

weekend.

“Florida proved that they were the best team in the SEC in the

regular season,” said backcourt mate Jeffery Taylor, who added 20

points Friday. “We definitely look forward to the opportunity to

play them again and hopefully we can come out with a win.”

This will be the teams’ first tournament meeting since Florida

beat Vanderbilt 91-69 in the 2004 semifinals.

The winner faces either No. 15 Kentucky or Alabama in the

championship game Sunday.