College Basketball: Vanderbilt at Florida – Florida Favored
Beating ranked opponents has become commonplace for Vanderbilt. A victory over the No. 1 team in the nation would be anything but ordinary.
The 24th-ranked Commodores look to continue their impressive run and snap Florida’s 12-game win streak Wednesday night when the SEC rivals meet in Gainesville.
Four wins over ranked teams in the past two weeks have helped Vanderbilt (15-6, 5-2) earn a spot in the Top 25 for the first time since it was No. 22 in January 2004. That team, which opened 11-0, later advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national champion Connecticut.
"I’m happy for the players," coach Kevin Stallings said. "They’ve fought through a lot of adversity this season and have focused on getting better every day. I’m happy people are noticing their success."
The Commodores started the season 1-3, but have since won 14 of 17. They are 5-0 against ranked opponents during that stretch, with wins over Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and LSU.
"The last few weeks have been great, but we’ve got to keep it going," junior forward Ross Neltner said. "It’s not about being ranked in the Top 25, it’s about getting to the NCAA tournament."
While a sixth consecutive victory over a ranked opponent will surely be a huge challenge, Vanderbilt has proven itself capable of winning on the road. The Commodores boast road wins this season at two of the toughest venues in the SEC, Kentucky and LSU.
"Vanderbilt is playing very, very good basketball. They have great road wins at Kentucky and LSU, and a very good home win against Tennessee," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We’re going to see a team come in here Wednesday with a lot of confidence, a team that should have a lot of confidence and a team that is very confident playing on the road, seeing what they’ve been able to do in the last several games."
Derrick Byars scored 19 points and Vanderbilt held off a furious second-half rally Saturday in an 85-80 victory over Mississippi.
It was the fourth straight SEC win for the Commodores, their best run since a five-game win streak during the 1996-97 season. Their 5-2 league record is their best in eight years under Stallings.
Byars has been Vanderbilt’s leading scorer in five of the last six games and tops four Commodores in double figures with 15.8 points.
The Gators (19-2, 6-0) have won 14 in a row at home and are 6-0 in league play for the first time since the 2002-03 team opened 7-0.
Florida has dominated this series of late, winning six straight and 11 of the last 12 meetings. The Commodores haven’t won in Gainesville since a 63-61 victory on Jan. 20, 2001.
After barely beating Mississippi State, the Gators had no trouble Saturday at Auburn, shooting 58.0 percent from the field in a 91-66 victory. Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey and Al Horford scored 17 points apiece and combined to shoot 16-of-20.
A victory in this game would give Florida 20 wins before the end of January for the first time in school history. The Gators haven’t lost since falling 70-66 to Florida State on Dec. 3.
This will be Vanderbilt’s first contest against a No. 1 team since a 101-63 loss at Kentucky on March 2, 1996. Its last win over a top-ranked squad came against Kentucky on Jan. 13, 1993.
by: Marc Young – theSpread.com – Email Us
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