GAINESVILLE — With its star guard nursing flulike symptoms that have plagued him for the past few days and facing one of the hottest teams in the SEC, Florida knew entering Saturday's game against Vanderbilt it would take a team effort and improved play from the last couple of outings to earn a win.
That's exactly what the Gators got. With five players scoring in double figures, led by freshman Erving Walker with 17, the Gators picked up a huge SEC East victory with an 82-68 win over the Commodores on Saturday afternoon at the O'Connell Center.
Florida is 15-0 at home.
After losing three of five games, Florida (21-6, 8-4 SEC) has won its past two home games as the Gators prepare to play at SEC West leader LSU on Tuesday night. The Gators are tied for first in the East with Kentucky and South Carolina, with Tennessee dropping back after losing to the Wildcats. The Gamecocks kept pace with an overtime victory over Arkansas.
"These were huge wins for us on our homecourt," said UF sophomore guard Nick Calathes, who has been sick. "It's definitely great to take care of business on our homecourt. Now we've got LSU, and I think we'll be ready."
Florida led by 15 midway through the first half on its way to a 40-23 halftime lead. Vanderbilt (16-10, 5-7), which had won four of five, gave up a 12-0 run during nearly eight minutes of the half.
"We tried in the first half to shrink the floor and give some help, so we didn't get too spread out and tried to identify the guys who can shoot," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "Our defense to start the game was very, very good, and it probably gave us the lead going into the half."
In Wednesday's win over Alabama, the Gators shot just 40 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range in the second half. On Saturday, the Gators shot 61.2 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from beyond the arc. Vanderbilt shot 6-of-18 from 3-point range.
"As a team we had a good defensive effort and it was balanced scoring, so I think this was a good win for us," said Walker, who was one shy of his career high. "Shooting well makes it a lot easier for us. We've got a lot of good shooters, so we try to spread the ball and get open looks. And most of the time, when we get open looks, we feel like as a team they'll go in."
Vanderbilt pulled within 55-41 on two free throws by George Drake with 12:30 left, but Calathes and junior guard Dan Werner hit back-to-back 3s for UF.
"We talked about if we could get a couple of stops there and get a couple of points, we'd be okay," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "Then they hit those 3s."
Along with Walker, four other Gators were in double figures: Werner (11), Alex Tyus (10), Walter Hodge (12) and Calathes (14). Freshman reserve Kenny Kadji had seven points and four blocks in 16 minutes.
Hodge took over the top spot for career victories as a Gator. He has been part of 113 wins.
"I think for him, it probably will make him realize that he was here with Florida basketball at a very, very special time," Donovan said. " … He's a solid, good basketball player who I trust, and he's all about the right things. He's all about winning and doing what he can to help the team. And I do think because that's his makeup, that's a great tribute to him."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.