Florida snaps Kentucky's home win streak

Florida's Casey Prather (24) lays in an uncontested basket during the second half of the Gators' 69-59 win at Kentucky on Saturday. (AP Photo)

Published: Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 11:01 p.m.

LEXINGTON, Ky. — After the final seconds ticked off the clock, Florida senior center Patric Young looked up toward the stands as dejected Kentucky fans filed out of Rupp Arena.

“It was surreal when the buzzer rang and I walked to the locker room,” Young said, after No. 3 Florida's 69-59 win over No. 14 Kentucky. “It felt weird. I was like, 'Did we really just win here?' Because it was so hard for us. Last year we let it slip away from us. Years before we weren't even in the game.”

Florida (23-2, 12-0) snapped a six-game losing streak at Rupp, winning at the hallowed Kentucky basketball arena for the first time since 2007. That Florida team won a national title. This Florida team, now matching a school record with 17 straight wins, is building toward that goal after three straight Elite Eight seasons.

“I still think we can continue to grow and get better,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “Every time you win, there's always a residual effect. For us, winning two road games at Tennessee and here in Lexington, how do our guys respond from this going into next week?”

Florida won with flawless execution down the stretch, outscoring Kentucky 22-11 in the final 8:14. Senior forward Casey Prather led the Gators with 24 points, with senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin adding a career-high 23 points, two assists and one steal. Wilbekin went 11 of 12 from the free-throw line, and as a team Florida went 22 of 28 (78.6 percent).

Andrew Harrison led Kentucky (19-6, 9-3) with 20 points. James Young added 19 points for the Wildcats, and Julius Randle had 13 points and 13 rebounds for his 13th double-double of the season.

For Florida's seniors, it was sweet redemption. The Gators failed to score in the final 7:38 down the stretch in a 61-57 loss to the Wildcats last season at Rupp. Kentucky lost for just the third time in 84 games at home under head coach John Calipari.

“I was happy for those guys,” Donovan said. “A lot of people don't come in here and get wins, but at the end of the day, the reality of this thing, is it only counts for one win. I'm happy for our guys that they played as well as they did and battled and fought.”

The Gators rallied from down by as many as seven points in the second half. Donovan stirred some emotions when he called a timeout with 13:55 left and Florida trailing 41-36, upset at a stagnant offense that didn't immediately recognize Kentucky's zone defense.

“On timeouts, he just tries to refocus us if we play a little lethargic,” Wilbekin said. “If we had a couple of plays that we slipped up on and missed an assignment, he just tries to get us fired back up and locked in on the next possession.”

Said Donovan: “When you play on the road, there's going to be some peaks and valleys … with a team as talented and as good as they are, you're not going to walk in here and have smooth sailing.”

Florida fell behind 45-38 on a driving layup from Kentucky's Andrew Harrison. But that's when the Gators started their comeback. Young (10 points, five rebounds) converted a three-point play as he was fouled on a hook shot to cut Kentucky's lead to 45-41, then Wilbekin followed with a 3-pointer to cut UK's lead to 45-44.

“No one has ever won a game with 11 minutes left,” Young said. “We just stuck to our guns there and kept playing basketball and got it done.”

Another turning point came with 8:14 left, when Calipari was mysteriously called for a technical by official Michael Stephens after Randle hit a pair of free throws to put Kentucky up 48-47. Wilbekin made both free throws to give the Gators a 49-48 lead.

“You'd have to ask him,” Calipari said. “I just told the guy — I was speaking softly. I don't know what he heard me say with my back to him so you'd have to ask him.”

From there, the Gators made big shots and came up with big offensive rebounds. After starting 0-for-4 from the field, sophomore guard Michael Frazier II hit a big 3-pointer with 4:14 left, extending UF's lead to 60-55. The 3-pointer was set up by an offensive rebound by Dorian Finney-Smith, who then turned and found Frazier open on the perimeter.

With Florida up 64-59 and 1:23 left, Prather came up with a big offensive rebound and was fouled, making 1 of 2 free throws to put the Gators up 65-59. A Prather defensive rebound off a missed 3-pointer by Young with 1:08 left led to more points from Wilbekin at the free-throw line.

“Florida deserved to win the game,” Calipari said. “When you get all those rebounds late and execution, it's just an effort that I'm going to get this ball.”

A capacity crowd of 24,425 at Rupp was frenzied from the opening tip. Young got things going for the Wildcats with an early 3-pointer, then added a driving layup to give Kentucky an early 7-2 lead.

But Florida responded with an 8-0 run. Prather beat Kentucky down the floor for a three-point play that gave Florida its first lead, 8-7, then added a fall-away jumper that extended UF's lead to 10-7.

It was back-and-forth for the remainder of a first half that featured seven ties and six lead changes. There also was a controversial call when, with Kentucky ahead 25-23, Young's game-tying putback dunk was waved off by officials, who ruled basket interference. Replays showed that Young grabbed the Finney-Smith missed 3-point attempt outside the cylinder of the basket.

Kentucky built its biggest lead of the half, 31-24, on an inside dunk by Randle over Wilbekin. But Florida closed the half on a 4-0 run. A pretty drive and dish from freshman point guard Kasey Hill resulted in a Finney-Smith layup that cut Kentucky's lead to 31-26. After a Randle miss, Wilbekin drove to the basket and was fouled by Young on a bank-shot attempt. Wilbekin calmly made both free throws with 9.7 seconds left in the first half to cut Kentucky's lead to 31-28 at halftime.

Florida trailed by only three points despite going 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the first half, with several players missing wide-open looks. Florida shot 33.3 percent overall from the field in the first half (10-of-30), while Kentucky shot 50 percent (11-of-22).

“We missed a lot of open looks that I felt like could have gone down for us,” Donovan said.

FREE THROWS: Donovan said after the game that freshman point guard Kasey Hill suffered a groin injury and could be out for UF's next game Feb. 19 at home against Auburn. … Florida has won 17 straight three previous times, most recently from Dec. 6, 2006 to Feb. 14, 2007. Florida also won its first 17 games of the 2005-06 season.

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