Sunday, March 14, 2004

SEC: Gators cruise past Vandy to title game

Roberson, Walsh drive UF offense

The Associated Press

ATLANTA - Led by Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh, Florida again had the look of a No. 1 team.

Now, the Gators have a chance to win their first Southeastern Conference Tournament championship.

Roberson scored a career-high 35 points and Walsh, ignoring the usual heckling that accompanies his every move, added 20 to lead Florida past Vanderbilt 91-69 Saturday in a tournament semifinal.

Walsh bounced back from a miserable game - he was 1-of-15 shooting in a quarterfinal victory over Alabama - to help send the Gators (20-9) into today's final against No. 4 Kentucky.

Vanderbilt (21-9) probably has done enough to earn an NCAA bid, especially after knocking off regular-season champion Mississippi State on Friday night.

But the Commodores were blown out by Florida, a team that was ranked No. 1 in December, in the second half.

The Gators made 17 of 24 shots after the break and finished at 63 percent (32-of-51) overall. They turned a game that was tight at halftime - Florida led 40-38 - into a laugher.

Roberson and Lee Humphrey hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push the Gators ahead 70-60 with just less than nine minutes remaining.

Vanderbilt missed nine straight shots, going more than six minutes between field goals. By the time Scott Hundley broke the drought with four minutes left, Florida was cruising.

Roberson had a lot to do with it. The sophomore guard easily eclipsed his previous career best of 28 points with the highest-scoring game by a Florida player this season. He was hitting from everywhere - 7-of-8 on 3-pointers and 12-of-15 from the field overall.

Playing in its fourth SEC Tournament final, Florida will be going for its first title. The Gators and South Carolina are the only schools in the league without a tourney championship.

Kentucky has won the tournament 24 times, and Walsh probably is looking forward to a chance to get back at Wildcats fans. The last time he played in Rupp Arena, he was heckled so viciously that Kentucky sent a letter of apology to Florida.

Vandy fans taunted Walsh just about every time he touched the ball, but he wasn't paying attention. The sophomore was 8-of-11 from the field, making four shot from beyond the arc. He also had six rebounds, two assists and a block.

Mario Moore scored 16 points to lead Vanderbilt, which shot only 37 percent (25-of-68).

The first half gave little indication of the rout that was to come. Florida grabbed an early 19-13 lead, but the final minutes were more indicative of how things went.

Walsh hit a 3-pointer to put the Gators up 35-31. Dawib Przybyszewski answered with a dunk and a 3, sending the Commodores back ahead. Walsh sank another trey to push Florida to the lead, then Hundley got loose under the basket for a lay-in to tie the score at 38.

VANDERBILT (21-9)-Freije 4-12 2-2 11, Smith 4-7 0-0 9, Przybyszewski 4-12 0-0 10, Moore 6-19 0-0 16, Lakey 1-6 4-4 6, Holwerda 0-1 0-0 0, Payton 0-0 0-0 0, Cage 1-2 0-0 3, Hundley 3-4 1-2 7, Terrell 2-5 3-4 7, Skuchas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-68 10-12 69.

FLORIDA (20-9)-Lee 2-6 4-5 8, Walsh 8-11 0-0 20, Moss 4-5 5-5 13, Roberson 12-15 4-4 35, Humphrey 2-5 0-0 6, Abukar 0-2 0-0 0, Al-Kaleem 0-2 0-0 0, Appleby 0-0 0-0 0, Richard 3-4 1-2 7, Colas 1-1 0-0 2. Totals. 32-51 14-16 91.

Halftime-Florida 40-38. 3-Point goals-Vanderbilt 9-37 (Moore 4-14, Przybyszewski 2-8, Smith 1-3, Cage 1-2, Freije 1-5, Hundley 0-1, Lakey 0-4), Florida 13-22 (Walsh 4-6, Roberson 7-8, Humphrey 2-4, Abukar 0-2, Al-Kaleem 0-2). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Vanderbilt 30 (Hundley 7), Florida 34 (Lee 8). Assists-Vanderbilt 17 (Moore 4, Lakey 4), Florida 18 (Lee 6). Total fouls-Vanderbilt 16, Florida 12. A-NA.

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