GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida suffered its second straight loss Saturday, but this one will be tougher to rebound from.
After losing for the first time in eight games Wednesday at South Carolina, the No. 19 Gators (14-5, 5-2) lost their first home of the season to Vanderbilt, 68-66.
The Commodores and Gators went back and forth all afternoon with 10 lead changes and nine ties, but Vandy (9-10, 3-4 SEC) pulled away in the final minutes despite one of the best performances of KeVaughn Allen’s career.
UF coach Mike White was dejected after the game when addressing the media.
“Our focus needs to improve immensely,” White said. “We’ve know that all year. Now it needs to improve tenfold after we took about six steps backwards today.
“(In) our timeouts, we had some finger-pointing going on. A lot of immaturity showed up. Our culture has really improved, (but) today we had a lot of ugliness.”
White strongly criticized his team’s defensive effort and harped on the lack of communication several times. Vanderbilt shot 56.5 percent in the second half and attempted 25 shots from behind the arc, making 10.
“I don’t know what to do. We’ve got to figure it out,” White said. “I’m at a complete loss of what to do with our communication level. The entire focus for this game, the entire scouting report, hours and hours and hours went into it. … I guess I didn’t do a good enough job explaining it.
“We had 8 or 10 miscommunications that led to open threes. It’s pretty simple. You yell switch, I yell switch. … We were good (Friday) in practice. We were locked in this morning. It’s beyond me with the mistakes that we made defending when the game plan was that simple. It was the simplest plan that we’ve had all year.”
Florida ended the first half with a 10-2 run to take a 32-27 lead into the locker room. But the Gators were outscored 41-34 in the second half as Vanderbilt’s Matthew Fisher-Davis and Nolan Cressler came up with big shots late in the game.
“I don’t know who our team thinks that we are, but we’re not that,” White said. “Certain teams in our league and certain throughout the country in college basketball right about now head upward and some head downward. We want to be the first (to go up) and we weren’t.
“Now there’s a fork in the road. Do we panic? Do we point fingers? Do we blame each other? Or, do we simply man up and put some of our deficiencies on ourselves and find a way to get better. That obviously wasn’t our focus today, because we’ve defended at a much higher level than that several times this season.”
Player of the game: KeVaughn Allen
After four consecutive games scoring in double figures, Allen had been in a slump lately. The sophomore shooting guard had combined for just 16 points in the last three games, including a 1-point effort Wednesday at South Carolina.
Allen came alive Saturday, hitting a 3-pointer early and scoring 14 points in the first half. He finished the game with a season-high 29 points, but missed a difficult corner 3 in the final seconds to win the game.
“KeVaughn was terrific He was really good,” White said. ‘If he doesn’t throw in four or five high-degree-of-difficulty shots, the game wouldn’t have been close. They had their way with us, other than KeVaughn hitting some hard shots. Vanderbilt was great.
“I should have used a timeout (before Allen’s last shot). I had one left. I thought I could get down there in the corner and see if we had an open look and if not we could holler timeout. Before you know it, the ball was in the air to KeVaughn and we put him in a difficult situation. It was my fault.”
Stat line of the game
In Allen’s last three games, he had made just 5 of his 18 attempts and missed all eight 3-point shots. Through 22 minutes of action against Vandy, Allen scored 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting and 3-of-5 from behind the arc.
Vanderbilt went on a 12-0 run in the second half to take a lead 56-49 with under 7 minutes to play. Florida responded with a 9-1 run of its own, but the Commodores kept their confidence and momentum down the stretch.
The Gators will play Wednesday at LSU at 9 p.m. ET on SEC Network.
The Tigers are 9-8 (1-5 SEC) and have lost their last four games. They face Arkansas tonight at 8:30 ET on SEC Network.
Florida and LSU split their games last season, with the Gators winning 68-62 at home but falling to the Tigers on the road, 96-91
Box score from Florida's 68-66 loss to Vandy. pic.twitter.com/1x2vd2S0Yy
— Zach Abolverdi (@ZachAbolverdi) January 21, 2017