No. 7 Florida dominant in home win vs. Kentucky
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 8:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 12:41 a.m.
Florida showed for a night at least that experience can trump youth and one-and-done talent.
Playing physically and with poise, the No. 7 Gators picked apart inexperienced No. 25 Kentucky 69-52 before a sellout crowd of 12,480 at the O'Connell Center.
The Gators (20-3, 10-1 Southeastern Conference) took a two-game lead in the conference title race with defensive intensity and another balanced offensive effort. Junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin led five UF scorers in double figures with 14 points, and also had eight of Florida's 17 assists.
Florida's starting lineup of three seniors and two juniors overmatched Kentucky's starting lineup of three freshmen and two transfers. Kentucky coach John Calipari admitted his team had a “deer in headlights” look at times during the game, while Florida brought its A-plus defense to the court. The Gators held a team under 60 points for the 17th time this season.
“They are a good team top to bottom,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They don't put any bad players on the court, and the greatest thing is every one of them are aggressive and tough.”
Patric Young added 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, posting his sixth double-double of the season.
“He gave us a very good game with his effort,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “When he gives incredible effort and he plays with a really, really good motor, he is capable of getting double-doubles every night.”
Mike Rosario had 12 points, and Erik Murphy had 10. Junior forward Casey Prather also had another big game off the bench with 12 points, three rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes.
“He played amazing today,” Wilbekin said. “When he plays like that, it's fun to watch because he's so athletic.”
Florida snapped a five-game losing streak in its series with Kentucky (17-7, 8-3 SEC). The Gators won for just the second time in their last nine meetings with the Wildcats.
“It's nice to get a notch in the win column against them,” Young said. “It feels good to get another win in the SEC as well.”
The Gators were able to get Wildcats center Nerlens Noel into first-half foul trouble. Noel then was knocked out of the game with 8:03 left in the second half with an apparent knee injury after blocking a breakaway layup attempt from Rosario.
Noel had eight points and three blocked shots before going down with the injury. Calipari said after the game the 6-foot-10 freshman center was taken to Shands Hospital to have his knee examined.
“It was ugly,” Calipari said of the injury. “We're hoping for the best.”
With Noel out of the lineup, Florida kept attacking inside. The Gators outscored Kentucky in the paint 36-26 while taking an uncharacteristically low 14 3-point attempts. Young said Florida's gameplan was to drive right at Noel and dish when the time was right.
“We took good 3s but were able to finish at the basket,” Young said. “He can't block every shot attempt.”
Prather provided a big lift off the bench, scoring eight of his 12 points in the first half. With Murphy on the bench the final 8:06 with two fouls, Prather made a driving layup to put the Gators up 22-15. That forced Kentucky to respect the drive, which opened up the perimeter. Wilbekin, Rosario and Kenny Boynton followed with three straight 3-pointers during a 9-4 run that extended UF's lead to 31-19.
After Wilbekin made one-of-two free throws, Prather followed with a dunk over Kentucky 7-foot backup center Willie Cauley-Stein to extend UF's lead to 34-19.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” Prather said. “They were swinging the ball my way, and I just ripped through and tried to be (as) aggressive as I could.”
Defensively, Prather made his presence felt early, drawing two early fouls on charges from Noel and Alex Poythress.
“It gave me a big energy boost and I could tell that my teammates were into it from there,” Prather said. “It just boosted our whole defensive team.”
Florida took a 38-25 lead into halftime, scoring 15 points off 11 Kentucky turnovers. The Gators maintained their lead in the second half, extending it to as many as 19 points. Florida kept attacking the rim, while Kentucky struggled from the perimeter. The Wildcats finished the game shooting 42 percent from the floor and 33 percent (4-of-12) from the 3-point line.
In picking up the win against Kentucky, Florida also posted 20 wins for the 15th straight season, all under Donovan.
“I think the biggest thing you want to do at a school is to have a level of consistency, be able to do something for a long period of time,” Donovan said. “In the past, there have been pockets of success … it's a reflection of the players, the administration and this school.”