Perhaps the third time will be the charm for Florida in its quest to win 18 straight games.
The top-ranked Gators look for the longest winning streak in school history and try to clinch at least a share of the regular-season SEC title when they visit Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Florida (24-2, 11-0) has won 17 in a row for the third time in its history, with all three streaks coming since the start of last season. The Gators opened 2005-06 with 17 consecutive victories, then won the final 11 games of last season en route to the national title before opening 2006-07 with a 6-0 record. In each previous case, Florida lost the 18th game.
Besides achieving the longest win streak in the history of the program, a victory Saturday would clinch at least a tie for the regular-season titles in both the SEC East Division and the conference.
“We’re a team that we taste blood,” said junior forward Joakim Noah, the 2006 Final Four’s most outstanding player. “When the blood is out we’re like vampires. We’re going to get that. And I think that’s our mentality. We taste blood, and when we taste blood, that’s when it’s scary.”
The Commodores (17-8, 7-4) and No. 20 Kentucky both trail the Gators by four games in the SEC East, although Vanderbilt holds the tiebreaker for second place by virtue of its 72-67 win at Kentucky on Jan. 20.
Florida has won the last seven meetings with Vanderbilt, including a 74-64 victory Jan. 31 at home. Noah had 19 points in that contest to lead the Gators, who overcame an 11-point halftime deficit.
They also trailed by 11 at the break—and by as many as 18 points in the first half—on Wednesday against No. 25 Alabama, but outscored the Crimson Tide 45-25 in the second half to pull out a 76-67 win. Point guard Taurean Green scored all 20 of his points after halftime, going 6-for-7 from the field after missing all six of his first-half attempts.
“Taurean Green is the best point guard in the country,” said Gators forward Corey Brewer, who added 16 points. “When he gets it going, it’s over.”
Brewer, who grew up about half an hour from Vanderbilt’s Nashville campus, scored a career-high 26 points the last time he visited Memorial Gymnasium, a 73-68 Florida win on Feb. 15, 2006. The Gators have won five of their last six games at Vanderbilt.
The Commodores have been tough to beat this season on their home court, where they are going for their 12th straight win. Vanderbilt has alternated wins and losses in its last five games, with the victories all coming in Nashville.
Senior forward Derrick Byars scored a career-high 32 points in Wednesday’s 78-68 win over South Carolina, shooting 11-for-15 from the field to help the Commodores bounce back from an 84-57 loss at Tennessee four days earlier.
Since an eight-point effort in a Jan. 6 loss to Auburn, Byars has averaged 20.4 points in 10 games while shooting at a 52.1 percent clip.
“The first half of the season, Derrick Byars was up and down,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said after Wednesday’s victory. “Ever since the Auburn game, I would say he’s had many more great games than good games. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him play as well as he did tonight.”