The Florida Gators picked up their third straight win on Saturday afternoon, defeating the Vanderbilt Commodores 61-42 at the O'Dome. The Gators are now 12-6 overall on the season and 3-3 in SEC play with some big games ahead.
Offensive Versatility and Shooting Struggles
Florida is still without star center Colin Castleton, who is out for an indefinite amount of time with a shoulder injury. On Wednesday, they got contributions from all different sources and different guys stepped up and shouldered the load. This continued on Saturday, with the leading scorers being guard Tyree Appleby (11 points), guard Brandon McKissic (9 points), center Jason Jitoboh (8 points) and both forward Anthony Duruji and guard Kowacie Reeves finishing with 7 points.
This was much needed for the Gators, as the offense runs through Castleton and without him they need everyone to step up and score. Florida did a great job running a bunch of different actions today, throwing in some flex screening, a lot of passing and screening away that they got some buckets on and a lot of dribble hand off. Florida doesn't have a ton of guys that can go one on one and blow by you, so using these different sets is right in their wheelhouse. The ball movement was great, too, with guys making extra passes and finding the creases all day creating a lot of open looks.
Even with all those open looks, the shooting wasn't good. The Gators had countless open looks from three yet shot it very poorly from behind the arc, finishing the day 9-36 (25%) as a team. This has been an issue all year and nothing was falling from deep. If the Gators are going to continue to shoot a lot of threes and get these open looks out of their offenses, then just absolutely have to shoot it better. They didn't fare much better from the field or line either, going 23-60 (38.3%) and 6-13 (46.2%), respectively.
Clamping Down on the Defensive End
It wasn't the offense that won the game for the Gators though. The effort and disruption on the defensive end was what won this one for Florida. Going into the game, we knew that if you stop Scotty Pippen Jr., the Commodores are going to have a very difficult time scoring points. He makes everything go for them offensively. This was the difference for the Gators, as they held Pippen Jr. to a season-low 6 points on 1-10 shooting.
Part of these struggles by Pippen Jr. were due to the fact that he had early foul trouble, picking up two in the first five minutes and being forced to sit for the last 15 minutes of half one. Due to Florida's poor shooting, they took just a 31-28 lead into the half even in Scotty's absence. However, this wouldn't matter as Florida continued their defensive dominance in half number two. Using some different full court and half court schemes, the Gators were all over Vandy making it impossible to get anything going.
Every time someone would drive and try to penetrate into the lane, the Gator defense would collapse and swarm to the ball. They trapped and doubled high off of ball screens and doubled down on Pippen Jr. whenever he would drive baseline. They threw 1-3-1 traps into the mix and rotated well all day. You could tell that they game planned for Pippen and were ready for him today.
The Gators ended the game allowing no field goals in the last 10:30 of the game as well as holding Vandy to just 14 second half points, There's no doubt about it, defense won this one for the Gators.
The Gators have probably their toughest week of the season next week, with a big three game stretch that includes a trip to Oxford to take on Ole Miss in a make up for that postponed game on Monday, followed by a trip to Knoxville to take on the #24 Tennessee Vols Wednesday and then finally a return trip home to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the SEC/Big 12 challenge on Saturday. This week will show us a lot about this team and be a massive test for them, especially in Castleton's absence.