Florida Gators defeat Kentucky, finish SEC schedule undefeated
Led by a special group of seniors, UF routed Kentucky to become the first team to go undefeated over an 18-game SEC schedule.
03/09/2014 12:01 AM
03/09/2014 12:23 AM
A sign in the “Rowdy Reptiles” section said it all.
“Hey Kentucky, this is what Senior Day looks like.”
No. 1 Florida, supercharged and senior-laden, eviscerated a tumbling Kentucky team 84-65 on Saturday afternoon, putting a perfect finish on the regular season.
Anchored by a special group of four seniors — Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Patric Young and Will Yeguete — the Gators made history, becoming the first team in the Southeastern Conference to go undefeated over an 18-game league schedule.
“This is the greatest regular season I’ve ever been a part of,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “Their consistency and the way these guys have performed and winning 18 games in a row in this league, it’s never happened before. … These four guys have done a remarkable job. They’re going to be remembered for what they’ve done.”
Four years ago, a hotshot prospect (Young), a kid (Wilbekin), a project (Yeguete) and a wide-eyed winger (Prather) came together, and on Saturday they cut the nets down as the greatest senior class in UF history.
“Pitch perfect. When I went to sleep [Friday] night, this is how I imagined [Saturday] happened,” Wilbekin said. “It was a dream ending. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Florida’s 23rd consecutive victory, and school-record 32 in a row in O’Connell Center, was the senior’s 113th career win, another accolade next to three SEC titles and three NCAA Elite Eight appearances.
Young scored a season-high 18 points, 14 during a dominant first half that the Gators finished with a commanding 21-point lead.
UF’s muscle-man center said Saturday’s emotional pregame Senior Day festivities “fueled” his steady performance.
“[The crowd’s response] made me feel stronger,” he said.
Florida throttled Kentucky with offensive efficiency in the first half, assisting on its first 11 baskets and shooting a blistering 61 percent, including 7 of 12 from beyond the three-point arc.
UF’s freshman roadrunner Kasey Hill nearly hijacked Senior Day with a terrific first half, handing out six assists and scoring four points with Wilbekin plagued by early foul trouble.
“I thought it was his best game by far he’s had here,” Donovan said of Hill. “He was aggressive, he was physical. He was tough and played with energy.”
Kentucky, which has lost three of four games, continued its recent shooting woes — a combined 32 percent from the field over its previous three games — before John Calipari’s young team clawed back into the game with a phenomenal 15-0 run, holding the Gators scoreless for a five minutes stretch in the second half.
Florida had no answer for rookie battering ram Julius Randle, who scored eight consecutive points as the Cats cut the deficit to six.
But they got no closer.
Wilbekin, the SEC’s front-runner for player of the year, answered the run with a key three-pointer, re-energizing a sellout crowd. The Gators quickly stormed back to a double-digit advantage and went on to a rout.
“They play off of one another,” Calipari said of UF. “The best play of the game was when Scottie threw it to one of the bigs and he threw it back to him and Scottie scored. That’s just two guys knowing each other, playing for each other. That’s the kind of stuff we’re not getting right now.”
The senior point guard finished with 13 second-half points, and Prather added 12 after halftime (15 total). Yeguete — UF’s glue-guy and intangible force — made just one basket, a thunderous dunk off a feed from Prather in the second half.
Together, the four seniors kissed the floor and waved goodbye before walking off the court one last time. Although their chase for conference perfection is complete, dangling carrots — starting with next weekend’s SEC tournament in Atlanta — remain.
Leaving, Yeguete held up another sign: “18-0 and more to go.”
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