Gators win outright SEC title
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 9:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 1:20 a.m.
With each snip of the net Wednesday, No. 11 Florida celebrated its fourth outright SEC title in school history.
Who: No. 11 Florida at Kentucky
When: Saturday, noon
Where: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
Gainesville-area TV: CBS
Gainesville-area radio: 103.7 FM
And the Gators did it the way they have throughout the season, with smothering defense.
Florida (24-5, 14-3 SEC) wrapped up its second SEC regular-season crown in the last three years with a 66-40 win over Vanderbilt before 10,504 at the O'Connell Center. For the 12th time this season, the Gators held an opponent under 50 points.
“We need to do that to all the teams we play,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “They were a team that, scouting them, definitely was playing better and making shots from the 3-point line. We really collectively, I thought, did a good job there and didn't give them too many easy layups.”
Florida held Vanderbilt (13-6, 7-10 SEC) to just 26.9 percent from the floor and 16.7 percent (4 of 24) from 3-point range.
“Defense got it done for us tonight,” Florida senior forward Erik Murphy said. “We weren't clicking on offense early and it allowed us to overcome some things before we got into a rhythm.”
The defense allowed the Gators to overcome some inconsistent offensive stretches. Florida led just 24-14 at halftime and 37-29 early in the second half following a pair of free throws from Vanderbilt's Sheldon Jeter. But up 43-32, Florida put the game away with a 13-0 run.
Florida held Vanderbilt scoreless for close to five minutes during the stretch, which included points from five different players. A 3-pointer from Scottie Wilbekin extended UF's lead to 56-32 with 6:45 left, wrapping up UF's SEC crown.
“We set it as a goal from day one,” Florida senior guard Kenny Boynton said. “We tried to make a change, and I think we've done a good job making a change. We've got to keep it going -- even the next classes -- they've got to keep it going.”
Florida's seniors struggled early on Senior Night before stepping up late. Boynton scored 13 of his team-high 15 points in the second half, including a couple of big 3-pointers in transition. Murphy had 10 points and six rebounds and Mike Rosario had five points, three assists and just one turnover.
Donovan said he was concerned about the Florida seniors heading out of the locker room. Rosario was on his cell phone 15 minutes before the opening tip, trying to text his mom because he couldn't spot her in the crowd. But Rosario's mom was there for the pregame ceremony, and the 6-foot-3 senior even gave her a peck on the cheek as he teared up.
“I was concerned about them, coming out of the locker room,” Donovan said. “Just them knowing that this was going to be their last shots, the last time they were going to play at the O'Connell Center.”
Florida missed a number of layup drives early. But the Gators still led 24-14 halftime. Junior center Patric Young scored 10 of his 14 points in the first half. After missing a 16-footer to start the game, Young made his next five baskets inside 10 feet.
The Gators shot just 41.7 percent from the floor in the first half, but the ball movement was more crisp late. The Gators finished the game with 13 assists to eight turnovers and 9 of 18 from 3-point range.
But considering what Florida has overcome this season with injuries, Donovan said Wednesday night wasn't a time to nitpick.
“There will be plenty of time tomorrow to get better on areas that we need to work on,” Donovan said. “When you do this, these moments are never easy. It's a grind and can be ugly and frustrating. It's about persevering, being resilient and fighting and that's what we did.”
The Gators finished the season 15-0 at home, their first perfect record at the O'Connell Center since going 18-0 in 2007. Florida, which closes the regular season Saturday at Kentucky, also wrapped up the top overall seed at the SEC Tournament.
“We're happy, but not satisfied,” Boynton said. “Last time we won the SEC, Kentucky came back and won the (SEC Tournament) championship. That's our next goal, winning the SEC Tournament.”