Florida routs Kentucky 84-65 for SEC perfection

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 8, 2014 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida made history Saturday. Kentucky made its fans nauseous for a half, then renewed flickering hope and saved face with a rally.

In a sense both teams got something from Florida's 84-65 victory.

The Gators, who posted their program's biggest margin of victory against Kentucky, completed the first 18-0 regular-season run in Southeastern Conference history. "Greatest regular season I've ever been a part of," said Billy Donovan, who began his coaching career as a Kentucky assistant.

Kentucky avoided a meek surrender by going on a 15-0 second-half run.

"It wasn't our best day," said Julius Randle, who led UK with 16 points and 10 rebounds (his 18th double-double). "That's a great team. You can't spot a team like that 20 points. They're too good for that."

Florida, which extended two winning streaks (23 straight overall, 32 straight at home), put Kentucky behind by 22 points late in the first half.

"No. 1 team in the country at home on Senior Night," UK Coach John Calipari said in explaining the first half. "And a team that came out a little timid. You're going to be down 20, 25 points. ...

"You can't start a game shooting threes. You can't drive thinking you're going to get bailed out (by referees). You're not."

Trailing 53-32 with barely 17 minutes left, Kentucky staged an improbable comeback. Fifteen straight points got UK within six.

Then Scottie Wilbekin, one of Florida's four seniors, decided things with a pair of three-pointers down the stretch.

"He does that," Calipari said of perhaps the SEC's Most Valuable Player this season. "He's done it all year. That didn't bother me. I wish we'd had high hands a little more, but it's not like he hasn't done that. You could have been up on him and he may have done that."

Kentucky, which fell to 22-9 overall and 12-6 in the SEC, never led. The Cats trailed by 11 barely eight minutes into the game and faced a deficit of 22 points before halftime mercifully came.

Twice, Calipari found little solace in TV timeouts and had to call timeouts.

Twenty-two seconds after the third TV timeout, he called another of his own. In that span, Michael Frazier's first three-pointer put the Cats behind 29-16.

Later, Calipari did not wait for the 10 seconds to elapse till another TV time-out. Frazier sandwiched a pair of three-pointers around a no-chance driving attempt by Andrew Harrison. The Cats trailed 39-20.

Poor shooting again plagued Kentucky, which made only eight of 23 first-half shots. Even James Young's return to form (3-for-5 overall, 3-for-4 from three-point range), made little impact as the rest of the Cats made only five of 18 shots.

Kentucky didn't play a lot of defense, either. Florida's 49 points eclipsed the previous high by a UK opponent in a first half (44 by Michigan State). The Gators got credit for 14 assists in 16 baskets. This largely came without Wilbekin, who played only nine minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.

Noting Florida's 59.6 percent shooting overall, including 9-for-15 from three-point range, Calipari said, "That doesn't happen to us."

Florida's defense continued to be steady. The Gators had given up an average of 28.1 first-half points against their previous 17 SEC opponents.

Kentucky went almost exclusively to Randle to start the second half. Sparked by Randle, UK's "bigs" made a 15-0 run happen. Randle (five), Dakari Johnson (four) and Willie Cauley-Stein (two) contributed to the surprising run that got Kentucky within 53-47. More than 12 minutes remained.

Florida hadn't scored in more than five minutes and suddenly looked like the wobbly colts.

"We saw we kind of had an advantage inside," Randle said. "That's what we started to do and it worked for a while.

"They're too good a team. They're going to recover from a run. You can't spot them 20 points."

Wilbekin — who else? — came to the rescue. He hit a three-pointer from the right wing to steady Florida and change the tenor of the game.

Wilbekin erased any lingering doubts with another three-pointer with 2:33 left. With UK having shifted to a zone, his shot put Florida ahead 77-60 and headed toward history.

"Their execution of their stuff, naturally being seniors, is going to be better than us," Calipari said of the Gators. "So they got better opportunities. Which they did.

"That was what they did to us, not what (Kentucky did to itself)."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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