Prather ignites Gators with offensive outburst
Published: Monday, February 17, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 10:48 a.m.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — After struggling through lingering ankle issues in recent weeks, Florida senior forward Casey Prather delivered on a big stage Saturday night against Kentucky.
Auburn at Florida, Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Prather finished with 24 points, four rebounds and four steals in No. 3 UF's 69-59 win over No. 14 Kentucky before 24,425 fans at Rupp Arena.
The 6-foot-6 senior from Jackson, Tenn., posted his sixth 20-plus point game of the season and his highest-scoring game since going for 27 points against Jacksonville on Nov. 25, 2013. Prather had scored just once in double-figures his previous four games since injuring his ankle Jan. 30 at Mississippi State.
“He's getting better,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He's still not there.”
With Florida (23-2, 12-0 SEC) struggling to score from the perimeter in the first half (1 of 9 from 3-point range), Prather kept the Gators in the game with 12 first-half points. After missing two early free throws, Prather scored five of UF's first 10 points on a jumper and a three-point play by beating Kentucky (19-6, 9-3) down the floor in transition.
“Different things ignite different guys,” Donovan said. “He got fouled early in the game, went to the free-throw line, missed both free throws. That probably didn't get him off to a good start, but then he got in transition, he got a dunk, he got a foul and all of the sudden he started to play better.”
Prather, who came into the game leading the SEC in field-goal percentage (61.2 percent), finished 8 of 9 from the floor and 8 of 12 from the free-throw line. He also came up with two of his four rebounds in big spots. One came on a defensive rebound with 1:08 left and another on an offensive rebound with 1:23 remaining. On the offensive rebound, Prather was fouled and made one of two free throws to extend UF's lead to 65-59.
“Scottie missed a baseline jumper over (Kentucky center Willie Cauley-) Stein and he came down with the rebound and they fouled us,” Donovan said. “He did some very good things for us.”
Florida also showed its marked improvement from the free-throw line Saturday. The Gators went 22 of 28 (78.6 percent), above their season average coming into the game of 67.5 percent.
In road wins over Tennessee and Kentucky, Florida has shot 78 percent (39-50) from the foul line.
“They've worked hard at it,” Donovan said. “We've been a team, free-throw shooting wise, that's been up and down. There's been some games, like (Kentucky), where we've shot it very, very well. There's been some games where we haven't shot it so great.”
Scottie Wilbekin led the way, going 11 of 12 from the free-throw line. Senior center Patric Young even made both of his free-throw attempts to convert a pair of three-point plays in the second half. Florida also delivered in the clutch, making 15 of its last 17 free-throw attempts to close out the game.
“Hopefully we can improve on that, continue to get better,” Donovan said. “It's an area that we've put some focus on and I'd like to see guys have success like they did (against Kentucky) because they have put effort in on their own and in practice to try to get better there.”
Florida came into the game against Kentucky a two-and-a-half to three-point underdog at Rupp Arena.
“To come away with a win here is huge, especially being the underdog,” Young said.
Shortly after that statement, Young was posed the question if the Gators should have been considered the underdog, given UF came into the game No. 3 in the country and Kentucky was No. 14.
“You tell me,” Young said. “Everyone I was hearing was saying UK was going to get it done. I think Jay Bilas was the only one on (ESPN College) GameDay that said we were going to win, so I was just thinking everyone, especially being here at Rupp and what they've been able to do under (Kentucky coach John) Calipari at home here, of course we were supposedly the underdogs going into the game.”
The loss dropped Calipari to 81-3 at Rupp Arena in his Kentucky coaching career. Kentucky's previous two home losses came last season against Baylor and Texas A&M.
The status of Florida freshman point guard Kasey Hill (groin) remains questionable for UF's next game Wednesday at the O'Connell Center against Auburn. Donovan said Hill suffered the injury during the second half. … Florida extended its road win streak to six games by outscoring UK 31-14 in the last 11 minutes. The Gators are 7-2 on the road this season.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or email@example.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.