GAINESVILLE -- This time, there were no surprises.
No. 5 Florida (21-4, 11-2 Southeastern Conference) avenged one of only two conference losses, upending Arkansas 71-54 at the O’Connell Center in front of a sellout crowd of 12,609. The win gives the Gators a two-game lead in the SEC with four games remaining in the regular season.
On Feb. 5, Arkansas ended Florida’s 10-game winning streak and handed the team its first conference loss with a hot shooting night that led to an 80-69 upset victory. Gators guard Mike Rosario chalked it up as a lucky break for the Hogs.
“We let luck play into that game and those guys knocked down 3-pointers,” he said. “They got guys shooting 16 percent from three and they come out and hit three in a row. I just felt like luck played into their hands with that.”
The Razorbacks had no such luck Saturday night in Gainesville.
The Gators were 12-0 at home entering the game while the Razorbacks were just 1-6 on the road. Playing smart basketball, Florida frustrated Arkansas early and often, forcing 14 turnovers and putting one of the Hogs’ best players on the bench because of foul trouble.
Arkansas played much of the game without its second-leading scorer and reigning SEC Player of the Week Marshawn Powell — one of the biggest reasons why it wasn’t able to replicate its surprise victory from nearly a month ago.
“Any time you got a good player that gets in foul trouble, it always alters what you’re doing,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought that was really important.”
Powell scored seven of his team’s first 13 points as Arkansas kept it tight in the opening minutes. But Powell picked up his second personal foul when Florida forward Casey Prather drew a charge with 10:25 remaining in the first half.
“That was big because he’s been playing well of late — he’s an offense machine,” Rosario said. “We did a great job of being aggressive with him from the beginning of the game to the end.”
UF capitalized, going on a 9-0 run to extend its lead to 10.
Although the Hogs were able to claw back into it to trail by just four at the half, that momentum quickly evaporated when the second half began and Powell quickly picked up fouls three and four in the first three minutes after the break.
The Gators opened the second half on an 11-1 run and extended their lead to 20 at 57-37 at the 10:31 mark. Behind 14 points and seven rebounds from center Patric Young, Florida simply pulled away.
“My daughter could have thrown the ball to him inside tonight,” Donovan said. “He was open, he made himself available and he wanted it.”
When it was over, the Gators held a 42-18 advantage in points in the paint — a number Donovan said actually could have been higher if not for several missed layups. However, Florida’s coach was pleased with the emphasis on getting the ball inside after his team attempted 33 shots from three in a 63-60 loss to Missouri on Tuesday.
“You learn from the Missouri game — that was a great thing,” Donovan said. “We should have had a lot more points in and around the basket than we did, but at least we had a mentality that we’re trying to attack a little bit more.”
Rosario led Florida with 15 points, while guard Kenny Boynton and forward Erik Murphy both chipped in 12.
• Freshman guard Michael Frazier (concussion) will be out for at least Tuesday’s game against Tennessee and possibly longer after getting hit in the head with the knee of teammate Scottie Wilbekin while both were attempting to secure a loose ball in the second half.